Georgia/Florida Electronics Recyclers Caught in Scheme to Smash, Dump, and Export Toxic TVs and Computer Monitors

The Basel Action Network (BAN), a global environmental organization working on toxic trade, has discovered that Diversified Recycling, an electronics recycler operating in Orlando, Florida and Norcross, Georgia, was recently engaged in transporting daily tractor-trailer loads of toxic TVs and computer monitors to a small warehouse operation where cathode ray tubes (CRTs) were smashed by hand and then dumped in a local construction landfill.

BAN also traced a trans-Atlantic container shipment of electronic waste containing non-functional LCD equipment from the same warehouse firm, known as Sarah’s Trading, to Asia. Both the dangerous smashing and the export and dumping of electronic waste are likely to violate numerous local, state, and federal laws.

"What we witnessed in the tiny warehouse was reminiscent of what we have seen in China, India or Ghana," said BAN executive director Jim Puckett. "Workers, without proper protective equipment, were exposed to toxic phosphors and lead dust from broken tubes, as well as to the threat of silicosis from breathing glass particles. This company then snuck the toxic-laden glass into an unlined landfill that can’t legally accept hazardous waste, while exporting mercury bearing devices overseas."

Based on a review of numerous government contracts, it appears that Diversified Recycling has been operating under the pretense of being a responsible recycler while secretly sending toxic CRTs off to Sarah’s Trading where the dirty work was done. Diversified appears to have duped many taxpayer-funded government customers after they attained an R2 (Responsible Recycling) Certification.

The R2 Certification was a prerequisite for their being designated as the State of Georgia’s official Electronics Disposal Vendor by the Department of Administrative Services. As a result, they were able to process electronic waste from multiple Georgian government agencies, including the entire University Systems of Georgia, which includes the University of Georgia and Georgia State University.

They also hold the contract for both the State of New Hampshire’s electronic waste disposal, as well as the University of South Carolina. In Florida, the company has garnered over $1.5 million worth of government contracts including with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. It is believed that Diversified Recycling won numerous other state contracts as well as the loyalties of many school boards and districts because of their low prices and promises of responsible recycling.

It was only after Diversified Recycling sought to become certified to another standard, the rigorous e-Stewards Standard administered by BAN, that suspicions were raised about the company's online sales of broken equipment, which is in violation of the e-Stewards Standard.

Truck being loaded with CRT monitors at Diversified Recyclingbefore leaving for Sarah's Recycling. November 10, 2014.

Doing their due diligence, BAN investigators traveled to Norcross, Georgia to get more facts. BAN immediately discovered that each day a tractor-trailer load of TVs and monitors left Diversified Recycling’s loading docks. Following these trailers to a tiny unmarked warehouse operation known as Sarah’s Trading in nearby Doraville, Georgia, BAN investigators were appalled to witness Latino laborers at work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without protective equipment, and in a very dangerous working environment breaking apart printers and smashing the leaded glass CRTs at night with hammers. The workers were also operating in conditions with a high risk of being crushed by poorly stored pallets of heavy electronic devices stacked to the ceilings.

The smashed television and monitor glass shards were then tossed into large roll-off dumpsters parked in front of the building. BAN continued to watch Sarah’s until they witnessed dumpsters with the shards of broken CRT glass moving to the Safeguard construction waste landfill in Fairburn, Georgia. In the last few weeks, BAN also traced a load of flat-screen computer monitors exported from Sarah’s Trading to Hong Kong.

Under US federal law, CRTs and CRT glass, if not recycled responsibly, is considered hazardous waste and is forbidden from being disposed of in municipal or construction landfills. Further, LCD screens often contain toxic mercury lamps and the export and import of mercury-containing devices without proper documentation is also prohibited.

BAN has turned over its findings to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). BAN has also suspended the possibility of Diversified Recycling from entering its e-Stewards Certification program for a minimum of 2 years.

"All too often, unscrupulous e-waste recyclers let others do their dirty work – either in scofflaw facilities hidden away in this country or in primitive facilities overseas," said Puckett. "In this case Diversified appeared to choose the cheap and dirty route. The lesson learned is that the public and public servants must only use recyclers that are willing to uphold all national and international laws, and can provide evidence of where every ounce of the e-waste they handle ends up."