Developing Countries Rally to Prevent Industry Efforts to Exempt E-waste from Trade Controls

Developing countries joined forces this week to defeat attempts by electronic equipment manufacturers represented by the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and industrialized powers including the European Union, US, Japan, and Canada to create loopholes that would allow repairable electronic waste to be exempt from the international Basel Convention hazardous waste trade control procedures.

“Already, developing countries cannot control the junk electronic computers, faxes, printers and TVs flooding into their countries from North America and Europe, all in the name of ‘helping the poor’ and ‘bridging the digital divide’,” said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. “Industrial countries are treating the rest of the world as a digital dump. It is no wonder developing countries do not appreciate industry proposals to make matters worse.”

The policy battle took place at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention over a Guideline on Transboundary Movement of e-Waste in Geneva. The Draft Guideline stated that used equipment that is not tested and functional would be considered waste and, if hazardous, would trigger the Basel Convention control procedures requiring at a minimum that all exports of hazardous electronic waste be notified to importing countries, and receive their consent prior to shipment.   But because industrialized countries would not agree to the Guideline without major exemptions for equipment going for repair, it could not be adopted.

Industry had argued that without lifting the established hazardous waste trade controls, reuse of used equipment would be inhibited.  But they failed to explain how they would prevent a disproportionate burden of the world’s toxic hardware from being transferred to developing countries when toxic parts were discarded, and how they would prevent this “repair” claim from being used by any and every trader to justify dumping.

“Repair of electronics is a good thing of course,” said Jim Puckett. “But repair can generate wastes when parts are replaced. And without controls, anyone can always make a claim that anything is repairable no matter what the intention.  Thus, in no way can we just blow kisses and say bon voyage to shipments of e-waste, based on empty repair promises. We still need the international rules provided by the Basel Convention.”

BAN also believes that it would be more important for the protection of the environment if manufacturers would make efforts to create non-toxic components, readily upgradable hardware and longer-lived products.

At the end of the meeting, delegates from Colombia formally expressed dismay at the pressure put on countries by the industry for major exemptions of e-waste from Basel controls. Chile, Switzerland, and Venezuela joined in voicing their frustration at the inability of the Basel Convention to support developing countries in creating Guidance that would protect their interests.