Exporting Deception, Continued

The Saga Continues…

In June 2015, we reported on an alarming new trend: a growing movement of people denying the reality of e-waste trade, or downplaying the scope of the problem.

Denying the existence of e-waste trade between more developed countries and less developed countries strikes us as odd because we’ve been collecting convincing evidence of this trade ever since we first uncovered it in 2001.

We’ve seen things that we don’t think is right - like this:

 In Ghana, boys burn wires to extract copper.

In Ghana, boys burn wires to extract copper.

Exporting Deception

We think these efforts to downplay global e-waste dumping issues are taken from the playbook used by climate change deniers and tobacco giants. Recent history shows that when an inconvenient truth threatens big profits, the industry of denial steps in to stir up controversy and confusion.

In our article, we pointed to three flawed studies that deniers use to downplay the scope of e-waste trade. Josh Lepawsky, the co-author of one of these studies, responded in December 2015 to our critique of his study. He maintains that his method of using the scrap batteries trade code as a proxy for all e-waste (since there isn’t a code for e-waste) is valid, despite the limitations he listed in the study.

We welcome a fair, fact-based debate about e-waste trade. We think this issue is critical, and we want it out in the open.

Trade Codes and Soft Smuggling

We respectfully disagree with Lepawsky. We think he interpreted flawed data.

In short, his data ignores a decisive legal and economic context. Typically, exporting batteries from more developed countries to less developed countries is dangerous and illegal. So most exporters avoid this code like the plague. After all, why would they want to draw attention to their export by using a code that would sign their arrest warrant?

Instead, exporters “soft smuggle” by fudging the categories – using the seemingly harmless ones with fewer restrictions, like the ones for scrap metal or plastic (and e-waste does contain some of both).

Therefore, using trade with this battery code to stand in for all e-waste trade doesn’t capture the scope of e-waste export, especially from wealthy to impoverished nations.

For more detail about these codes, see this brief on our wiki.

BAN’s Funding and Motivation

In addition, Lepawsky pointed out that BAN raises some funds through our e-Stewards Certification Program. In so doing, he sought to question our integrity, implying that we may have a vested interest in distorting the facts about the global e-waste trade for financial gain.

But every non-profit has a cause they seek to solve, and raises funds to solve it. BAN’s mission is to champion global environmental health and justice by ending toxic trade, catalyzing a toxics-free future, and campaigning for everyone’s right to a clean environment.

Fiscally sustainable organizations try to create programs that both further their mission and generate income, instead of relying solely on their generous donors.

We’ve done exactly this with e-Stewards. And we’re not the only ones – many non-profits create certification programs, like the World Wildlife Fund, which created both the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council for forest and ocean conservation. For more info about our finances, click here.

As a watchdog, honesty is one of our core values. We care deeply about being transparent and bringing to light what really happens when well-intentioned citizens drop off their electronics at their local recycler. We think everyone has the right to know what happens to their old gadgets, especially since we’ve found that some of these avenues that start with good intentions get derailed into polluted wastelands.

Since our founding in 1997, countless journalists, academics, and United Nations studies have proven what we’ve reported: that hazardous waste trade hurts impoverished communities around the world.

Recently, we’ve reported on irresponsible American companies, including Intercon Solutions, Diversified RecyclingDow Management, and Stone Castle Recycling. If we cared more about money than truth, why would we have prevented many of these companies from entering or remaining in our e-Stewards program, since denying or ousting them meant turning aside thousands of dollars in license fees? Instead, of course, we were happy to turn aside these companies to promote the best e-recycling and maintain our integrity.

Here’s our full response to Lepawsky. If you’d like support our work researching and exposing e-waste trade, please donate today

After all, we all have a vested interest in environmental justice.