LG Electronics First to Commit to Certified E-Waste Recycling Worldwide

LG Electronics Inc. (066570.KS) today announced a commitment to use third-party certification for verifying how its electronics waste is recycled worldwide. By becoming the first e-Stewards Enterprise, LG will give preference to electronics recyclers worldwide that meet and are certified to the "e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment."

The international standard, developed by the non-profit Basel Action Network (BAN), with the advice of industry leaders and health and environmental specialists, is the world's most rigorous certification program for electronics recyclers. It prevents the export and dumping of toxic electronic waste in developing countries.

The standard also calls for strict protection of private data and occupational health safeguards to ensure workers in recycling plants are not exposed to toxic dusts.

"This is historic," says BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. "To have a company like LG, with more than 90,000 employees working in 120 operations on five continents, embrace the e-Stewards program around the world will not only significantly protect human health and the environment from toxic pollution but will raise the profile of the e-Stewards internationally. It speaks volumes about LG's commitment to environmental leadership."

In 2010, LG recycled over 8 million pounds of home electronic products in the US, free of charge to consumers.

Currently, there are e-Stewards Enterprises in the US, Mexico and UK, and several are moving through the certification process in Canada.

Last week, the US government made its first effort to address electronics waste. An Interagency Task Force issued a report outlining purchasing and recycling guidelines for the federal government.

BAN praised the report for a strong emphasis on green design and the need for certified recyclers. But the nonprofit criticized the report for failing to address what is considered to be the most serious e-waste problem - e-waste exporting to developing countries.

Currently, most US electronic waste is exported to developing countries by US companies that claim to be recyclers, only to be bashed, burned, flushed with acids, and melted down in unsafe conditions in developing countries.

LG Takes Leading Role In Environmental Sustainability Programs

Programs Aim to Enhance Product Recycling, Hazardous Substance Management, Energy Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship. LG Electronics (LG) is furthering its commitment to "Green Management" by empowering its business units and subsidiaries to take greater responsibility for the entire lifecycle of LG's products, from production to disposal.

LG has joined the Basel Action Network (BAN), a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Seattle, Wash. that monitors the trade of toxic products and fights environmental degradation. LG and BAN plan to work together to expand the scope of "e-Steward Enterprise," a program designed to encourage the responsible disposal of electronic goods, which has previously been limited to North America and the UK. As part of the agreement, LG and BAN hope to jointly develop and participate in the "Global e-Stewards Enterprise" program, enabling companies to responsibly recycle electronic e-waste worldwide.

BAN is the best-known NGO in North America dealing with the verification of waste disposal companies, developing programs for toxin management and the surveillance of hazardous articles. The aim of the agreement between LG and BAN is to further protect the environment by sharing LG's knowledge with respect to cutting-edge electronics development processes and BAN's unique stewardship capabilities.

Earlier this year, LG was named exclusive consumer electronics partner of the "Keep America Beautiful" (KAB) environmental organization in the United States. LG is a top national sponsor of KAB's Great American Cleanup and America Recycles Day. Approximately 1.5 million tons of used electronics have already been collected this year with the help of a million participants.

According to LG's Environment Report released this week, almost 200,000 tons of used electronics products had been collected globally, an increase of 19 percent over the previous year. LG is cooperating with the city of Ulsan, a major industrial and manufacturing center in Korea, to collect used electronics parts free of charge. Over the first half of 2011, LG collected 279 tons, including 2,240 refrigerators, 115 washing machines and 3,545 mobile phones, as well as various other products in Ulsan.

What's more, LG is the first company in Korea to have signed a collection agreement with a local government. In this case, Ulsan takes responsibility for collecting the used electronics for free and LG takes on the task of processing them using eco-friendly methods. This agreement is a small but important piece of LG's overall plan to increase the quantity of used electronics goods year by year, while improving the company's resource recycling capabilities and management of hazardous substances.

LG is also leading the way in bringing the most high efficiency products to market. The company was recently recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy for having eight LG televisions and five LG washing machines - more than any other manufacturer - qualify for the "ENERGY STAR® Most Efficient" label. The ENERGY STAR Most Efficient designation recognizes the most efficient products among those that qualify for the ENERGY STAR.

"In the 21st Century, multinational companies like LG must step up and take a greater role in working to protect the environment. This commitment is not just about recycling; it is about making changes to the entire production process, right from the factory floor all the way to the final disposal of the product," said Jong-min, Shin, Vice President of LG's Eco Strategy Team. "LG understands this commitment and what it means to our customers, and the company is working hard to become a global leader in this regard."

Scuttling Plan for USS Radford Renews Reef Dispute

Contractors are preparing to scuttle the USS Arthur W. Radford 20 miles east of Fenwick Island off the coast of Delaware. The 563-foot destroyer will be yet another addition to an artificial reef program that has drawn fire from environmentalists and others, The Washington Post reported.The goals of the sinking include creating a new ocean habitat and a tourist destination, while also discarding outdated Navy ships. However, with artificial reefs expanding up and down the nation's sea coasts, environmentalists and federal and independent scientists are questioning the presumed ecological benefits.

"They're throwing debris down there and saying it's an economic opportunity, but they're not looking into the environmental impacts," Colby Self, who co-authored a report on the Navy's sinking program, told the Post.

Only a few studies have examined the impact of artificial reefs. State and federal officials are particularly concerned about whether traces of toxic chemicals that remain on the scrubbed ships pose a hazard and whether the ships end up concentrating fish, thereby making it easier to catch them.

The question of whether artificial reefs provide ecological benefits has "been out there for 50 years or more," said Jeff Tinsman, of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "If that was any easy question, it would have been answered long ago."

Donald Schregardus, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for the environment, told the Post that the Navy simply responded to states' requests. "We let them decide what they want and if they have an interest in these ships," Schregardus said. "We are not the experts on whether they are increasing [fish] populations or whether they are the attraction for divers and fishermen. But we want to make sure they're safe."

Jon Dodrill of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told the Post that PCB levels in reef fish near the site of the USS Oriskany spiked a year after the aircraft carrier was sunk in 2006 but have since dropped below advisory levels.

The Radford, scheduled to be sunk in late July or early August, participated in the Persian Gulf War as well as the Navy's bombardment of Beirut in the early 1980s. The ship was decommissioned in 2003, the Post reported.

Sinking a Navy Ship Off O.C.: A Toxic Idea?

The proposed sinking of an old Navy ship off Dana Point to create an attraction for divers could come with toxic side effects, including PCBs, an environmental group opposed to ship scuttling contends. But the group proposing the idea, backed by the Dana Point City Council, says all toxic material would be stripped from the craft, the USNS Kawishiwi, before it is placed underwater.

"There's no way we would ever put a ship down with anything like PCBs, or any kind of pollutants in it," said Ron Springer, part of a non-profit group called California Ships to Reefs. "We will follow the EPA guidelines to the letter."

The proposal by the Orange County representatives of the group, based in Wheatland, erupted into a minor controversy after a Washington Post story Sunday.

The story says PCB contamination in fish caught near the U.S.S. Oriskany, sunk off the Florida coast in 2006, spiked a year later, though levels have declined since.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a class of organic compounds that had a variety of uses, including as coolant in transformers, before they were banned in the United States in because of neurotoxic effects.

"From what we are seeing, there are very little post-sinking studies," said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network, which opposes sinking ships for use as reefs. "We are concerned about continuing the program when we see vessels with toxics in it, without really knowing the impacts."

Members of the Ships to Reefs group said they would not seek the EPA waiver necessary to send a ship to the bottom with any contaminants still on it.

"We will clean her extensively," he said. "We will take any of the fuels out, and have them washed out. We will pull all of the contaminated wire off the ship prior to ever putting her down."

The Kawishiwa is now moored at the Suisan Bay Reserve Fleet near San Francisco.

Any attempt to sink the ship near Dana Point is at least three to five years away, Springer said.

State Fish and Game officials received confirmation July 5 from the Maritime Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, that the Kawishiwa is available to be "considered for reefing."

But while the Dana Point City Council signaled its approval of the idea in 2008, more approvals are needed before it can be sunk; the sinking also would cost between $2.3 million and $5 million, said Ships to Reefs chief administrative officer Eleanore Rewerts.

"It's not an inexpensive process," said Kim Riddle, spokeswoman for the Maritime Administration.

Artificial reef projects raise environmental questions

The USS Arthur W. Radford, a 563-foot naval destroyer, once rode the waves. Now it will break the tides.Private contractors are preparing to sink it into the Atlantic Ocean, the latest addition to a Navy recycling program that turns outworn battleships into marine life habitats.

The Radford will go down 20 miles east of Fenwick Island, where officials are hoping it will prove a powerful lure for fish - and tourists - on the sandy sea floor.

"It should dramatically increase the use of dive boats operating on all three states' ports," boosting tourism for Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, said Jeff Tinsman, Delaware's artificial reef coordinator.

In the midst of an economic downturn, sinking naval vessels for artificial reefs aims to achieve multiple goals. It creates new ocean habitat and a tourist destination, while also ridding the Navy of outdated ships. Half of all U.S. coastal states have created artificial reefs or have plans to do so.

But some environmentalists, as well as federal and independent scientists, question whether the program provides ecological benefits.

"They're throwing debris down there and saying it's an economic opportunity, but they're not looking into the environmental impacts," said Colby Self, who is the green ship-recycling coordinator for the Basel Action Network and co-authored a recent report on the Navy's sinking program.

Only a few studies have examined the impact on the ocean of artificial reefs. The Army Corps of Engineers must approve the projects, and the Environmental Protection Agency inspects each vessel before it's sunk and can provide advice on where to place it. But state and federal officials are exploring issues such as whether traces of remaining toxic chemicals pose a hazard and whether the ships concentrate fish in areas where they're more likely to be caught.

The question of whether artificial reefs provide ecological benefits has "been out there for 50 years or more," said Tinsman, of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "If that was any easy question, it would have been answered long ago."

Some studies indicate that these human-made reefs may harm ocean species, even as they provide clear economic benefits.

"Adding more habitat is not the issue," said James A. Bohnsack, a research fishery biologist at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. "You need to protect the fish populations."

Donald Schregardus, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for the environment, said in a phone interview that when it came to creating reefs, the Navy simply responded to states' requests.

"We let them decide what they want and if they have an interest in these ships," Schregardus said. "We are not the experts on whether they are increasing [fish] populations or whether they are the attraction for divers and fishermen. But we want to make sure they're safe."

"Our initial experience appears to be positive," Schregardus said. "We anticipate it remaining in our toolbox as an option." He said the Navy also disposes of old ships by donating them to museums or other federal agencies, selling them abroad or scrapping them.

No one questions that artificial reefs attract many aquatic species, including open ocean fish such as mackerel and amberjack and some sharks. Billy Causey, the Southeast regional director for the National Marine Sanctuary program, said researchers are trying to determine whether sunken vessels make a "salt lick and get the pelagics to stop off and partake of the food there."

Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware all sunk New York City subway cars off their coasts several years ago. Tinsman said the cars have lured species ranging from black sea bass to triggerfish.

"It's undeniable, there must be a reason it's attracting them," he said, noting that the number of annual fishing trips to one subway car site rose from 300 to 17,000. "That's the kind of impact something like that can have."

But some scientists worry that anglers may be catching and consuming fish that have absorbed contaminants leaching from decommissioned vessels. These ships have carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), as well as oil, asbestos and other pollutants.

The EPA, which issued guidelines for ship sinking in 2006 along with the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration, requires that any ship destined to become an artificial reef not contain PCB levels above 50 parts per billion. But some fish can accumulate PCBs in their bodies over time as they consume smaller fish, causing their contaminant levels to rise above that threshold.

Jon Dodrill, environmental administrator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's division of marine fisheries management, has been monitoring PCB levels in reef fish near the site of the USS Oriskany, a naval aircraft carrier that was sunk to create a reef in May 2006. State officials identified a spike in fish-tissue PCB contamination a year after the sinking.

Since then, the contamination levels have dropped below advisory levels, although the most recent round of test results found elevated PCB levels in two red porgy and two scamp grouper that were sampled. "We're interested to see if this downward trend continues or stabilizes at a lower level," Dodrill said, adding that the peak levels of contamination would be a problem only for people relying on these fish for their main source of food.

Maine sanctuary managers are hoping that the increase in divers and anglers near artificial reefs will ease human pressure on natural reefs. Sean Morton, superintendent of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, said that a sunken ship off Key Largo has diverted tourists from neighboring natural reefs but one off Key West has not.

"There's no need to get any more artificial reefs done at this point, until we know the impact of what we've already done," Causey said of the Florida Keys.

In the meantime, the $945,000 project to clean, reconfigure and sink the Radford is close to completion. Contractors have removed the wiring, ductwork and gaskets that could contain PCBs, and they continue to test for remaining traces of the chemicals. They have auctioned off the brass, bronze and other exotic alloys from fixtures and opened up vertical shafts and missile silos. EPA inspectors continue to do final checks on the project, and contractors are focused on cleaning some remaining engine rooms.

After towing the Radford to its designated site later this month or in early August, contractors will cut holes in the ship, which participated in the Persian Gulf War as well as the Navy's bombardment of Beirut in the early 1980s. Then the vessel, which went out of service March 18, 2003, will sink beneath the waves.

E-Waste bill gains broad support

When it comes to electronics, gadget-loving Americans tend to take an "in with the new, out with the old" approach - with little regard for what happens to the old. But the fate of discarded computers, cellphones and TVs is precisely what's at the heart of a bill recently introduced on Capitol Hill.A bipartisan group of senators and House members wants to restrict U.S. manufacturers from dumping electronic waste overseas. And in a rare alignment of environmentalist and business interests, the effort is drawing significant industry support.

The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act - introduced last month by Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) - would bar e-waste from being exported to India, China, Nigeria and other nations.

Roughly 80 percent of e-waste in the U.S. winds up in the trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But even the electronics that do make it to the recycling plant aren't necessarily getting disposed of properly.

Some facilities that claim to recycle e-waste ship the materials to developing countries, where the electronics are broken apart or burned by workers using unsafe methods.

"E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States, and it can pose a serious problem in that most e-waste contains toxic chemicals which present environmental and health concerns when not properly handled," Green said in a statement.

The push for a federal e-waste law is partly a response to a hodgepodge of state laws that vary widely in their approach. Some 25 states have laws that limit or prohibit the land disposal of toxic electronics materials.

The problem is that states can't control what happens to e-waste after it leaves their borders.

"There are a number of efforts to divert e-waste out of the trash and into the hands of recyclers, and states are really leading that charge - but what good is all the effort if it's just going to be dumped overseas?" said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

"States can't stop the exportation of waste to developing countries - that's up to the federal government," she added.

Several major electronics-makers have lined up behind the legislation, including Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Samsung and Dell. Some of the firms said they already have policies prohibiting the export of e-waste.

"As an industry leader in product life cycle improvements, HP does not allow the export of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries," said Ashley Watson, vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer at HP.

The industry's lobby group, the Consumer Electronics Association, has not taken a position on the bill. But generally, CEA favors industry-led solutions to the e-waste problem instead of new laws.

The group in April announced an initiative that aims to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016 - three times the amount recycled in 2010.

"We want to move towards a national solution and away from the costly and confusing patchwork of state regulations," said Walter Alcorn, CEA's vice president of environmental affairs.

A number of the same manufacturers that support the congressional legislation, including HP, Samsung and Panasonic, have also declared support for CEA's initiative.

But critics say the industry plan falls short.

"It's great to set a goal, but they didn't provide any details," Kyle said. "It's important to understand that industry has a history of not doing much unless states require them to."

Some environmentalists, meanwhile, are worried that a federal law will emerge that's weaker than some of the state laws already in place.

So while federal legislation is necessary to restrict the export of e-waste to other countries, Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Kate Sinding said that the time may not be right for a broad federal e-waste law.

"It would be a shame - more than a shame - to lose strong and robust state laws," Sinding said.

Only one group - the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries - has publicly opposed the bill. ISRI President Robin Wiener said the legislation could hurt U.S. businesses and weaken efforts to improve recycling operations overseas.

ISRI wants responsible recycling "whether it's done in Texas or Taizhou," Wiener said.

The limited opposition to the bill has supporters feeling cautiously optimistic about its chances.

"This is a bipartisan bill that's supported by an awful lot of groups that don't usually support the same things," Kyle said. "So we're hopeful."

E-Waste bill gains broad support

When it comes to electronics, gadget-loving Americans tend to take an "in with the new, out with the old" approach - with little regard for what happens to the old. But the fate of discarded computers, cellphones and TVs is precisely what's at the heart of a bill recently introduced on Capitol Hill. A bipartisan group of senators and House members wants to restrict U.S. manufacturers from dumping electronic waste overseas. And in a rare alignment of environmentalist and business interests, the effort is drawing significant industry support.

The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act - introduced last month by Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) - would bar e-waste from being exported to India, China, Nigeria and other nations.

Roughly 80 percent of e-waste in the U.S. winds up in the trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But even the electronics that do make it to the recycling plant aren't necessarily getting disposed of properly.

Some facilities that claim to recycle e-waste ship the materials to developing countries, where the electronics are broken apart or burned by workers using unsafe methods.

"E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the United States, and it can pose a serious problem in that most e-waste contains toxic chemicals which present environmental and health concerns when not properly handled," Green said in a statement.

The push for a federal e-waste law is partly a response to a hodgepodge of state laws that vary widely in their approach. Some 25 states have laws that limit or prohibit the land disposal of toxic electronics materials.

The problem is that states can't control what happens to e-waste after it leaves their borders.

"There are a number of efforts to divert e-waste out of the trash and into the hands of recyclers, and states are really leading that charge - but what good is all the effort if it's just going to be dumped overseas?" said Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition.

"States can't stop the exportation of waste to developing countries - that's up to the federal government," she added.

Several major electronics-makers have lined up behind the legislation, including Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Samsung and Dell. Some of the firms said they already have policies prohibiting the export of e-waste.

"As an industry leader in product life cycle improvements, HP does not allow the export of e-waste from developed countries to developing countries," said Ashley Watson, vice president and chief ethics and compliance officer at HP.

The industry's lobby group, the Consumer Electronics Association, has not taken a position on the bill. But generally, CEA favors industry-led solutions to the e-waste problem instead of new laws.

The group in April announced an initiative that aims to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016 - three times the amount recycled in 2010.

"We want to move towards a national solution and away from the costly and confusing patchwork of state regulations," said Walter Alcorn, CEA's vice president of environmental affairs.

A number of the same manufacturers that support the congressional legislation, including HP, Samsung and Panasonic, have also declared support for CEA's initiative.

But critics say the industry plan falls short.

"It's great to set a goal, but they didn't provide any details," Kyle said. "It's important to understand that industry has a history of not doing much unless states require them to."

Some environmentalists, meanwhile, are worried that a federal law will emerge that's weaker than some of the state laws already in place.

So while federal legislation is necessary to restrict the export of e-waste to other countries, Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Kate Sinding said that the time may not be right for a broad federal e-waste law.

"It would be a shame - more than a shame - to lose strong and robust state laws," Sinding said.

Only one group - the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries - has publicly opposed the bill. ISRI President Robin Wiener said the legislation could hurt U.S. businesses and weaken efforts to improve recycling operations overseas.

ISRI wants responsible recycling "whether it's done in Texas or Taizhou," Wiener said.

The limited opposition to the bill has supporters feeling cautiously optimistic about its chances.

"This is a bipartisan bill that's supported by an awful lot of groups that don't usually support the same things," Kyle said. "So we're hopeful."

Sink Stink

The U.S. Navy has more than tripled the number of ships it has sunk for target practice over the past decade, a move environmentalists claim is an end-run around stricter ship-breaking regulations that were passed to keep harmful toxins like PCBs out of the water. The Navy says sailors need these training exercises to learn how to fire real weapons and sink enemy warships, but opponents say the U.S. Navy Ship Sinking Exercise - or "SINKEX" - should be scrapped.

Colby Self, director of the Basal Action Networks' green ship recycling campaign, said the Navy had to find a cheaper way to dismantle old ships, so it escalated the sinking program. Basal and the Sierra Club plan to submit a petition to the Environmental Protection Agency today demanding that it revoke the Navy's SINKEX permit.

Polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs - were once common in everything from paint to electric motors. Their toxicity, with links to everything from skin rashes to low birth weight and cancer, led them to be banned by Congress in 1979.

Old U.S. warships are filled with PCBs and other toxins, and now, so are U.S. waters, environmentalists say.

Following an outcry over lax environmental and worker safety regulations at ship-breaking yards in India, the Navy agreed in 1999 to only send its decommissioned ships to U.S. scrappers.

But that same year, the EPA issued the Navy a letter of agreement that allowed it to sink ships as long as it studied the environmental impacts, stayed a certain depth and distance from the coastline, removed most of the toxins, and estimated the amount of PCBs that remained on the ship.

Hawaii has become the most popular graveyard for decommissioned ships. Fifty-three ships weighing an estimated 286,000 tons and containing an estimated 501 pounds of PCBs have been sunk in the deep waters surrounding the islands from 2000 to 2010, according to the Navy.

Another 32 ships weighing an estimated 281,000 tons were sunk in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Carolinas. Those ships contained an estimated 700 pounds of PCBs, the bulk of which were on the supercarrier USS America.

In May, the Navy won approval to start sinking two decommissioned ships each year into the Gulf of Alaska. The pristine waters are home to several endangered species and one of the nation's largest fisheries for Alaskan pollack, a white fish commonly used in frozen food, fast food and imitation crabmeat.

In all, the number of decommissioned ships used in sinking exercises leaped from 32 ships between 1990 and 1999 - the year tougher ship-scrapping regulations were passed - to 110 ships between 2000 and 2010, according to documents obtained by The Daily.

The Navy's annual reports estimated that most of its ships had little to no PCBs onboard when they were sunk. But experts interviewed by The Daily said that it would be impossible to remove all hazardous materials, which also include asbestos, chromates, mercury and other heavy metals, without completely tearing apart the ship.

"If you break it up, it's decontaminated down to the last nut and bolt. But if you don't break it up, there's no way you can completely decontaminate it," said Robert Berry, vice president of International Ship Breaking, which decontaminates and scraps ships for the Navy.

Thomas Dydek, a toxicology expert at Dydek Toxicology Consulting, also said a lot of toxins are inside a ship's hull. He said the harmful effect to humans depends on how quickly they get into the food chain.

"That would be the concern, that if it's disbursed into the water, then it could get into the food chain and eventually get into a fish that a person would eat," said Dydek.

E-Recycler Intercon Accused of China Shipments, Takes Legal Action

Intercon Solutions, an e-waste handler, took legal action yesterday after a certification program accused the company of shipping hazardous waste to China. Watchdog group the Basel Action Network announced on Tuesday that the Chicago Heights, Ill., electronics recycler would be the first company denied BAN's e-Stewards certification, which aims to recognize e-waste recyclers that operate responsibly.

BAN said its decision was based on "compelling evidence" that Intercon had been exporting hazardous electronic waste to China, in violation of the UN's Basel Convention. The non-profit said that two freight containers containing such waste were shipped from Intercon premises to Los Angeles and then to Hong Kong.

"Intercon Solutions has boasted to customers for a long time in brochures and on its website that it does not export any used electronics entrusted to it for recycling," BAN said in a press release. "However on two separate occasions BAN investigators photographed and tracked containers of electronic waste leaving property leased by Intercon Solutions in Chicago Heights on its way to China.

"BAN had alerted Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department. As the same for any other cases, given the shipment contained hazardous waste, they subsequently required that the shipment be returned to the US," BAN adds.

But Intercon said the containers did not belong to the company. On Wednesday the firm filed a petition for presuit discovery with the circuit court of Cook County, Ill., to force BAN to provide more information about the allegations.

"Petitioner [Intercon] did not deposit the containers on the premises, and petitioner has no record of them being on the premises," the filing states. "The containers did not belong to petitioner. Petitioner did not load them. Petitioner did not ship anything in [the] containers. nor cause them to be transported by trucking company, rail nor by ocean freight."

Intercon says that one or more persons must have trespassed on its premises to deposit the containers, then load them with hazardous waste for shipment. By forcing BAN to provide relevant documents, such as export declarations, bills of lading, waybills, express bills, packing lists or invoices, Intercon says it could discover the identity of the trespassers.

An attorney for the company, Cathy Pilkington, told Environmental Leader, "Intercon Solutiosn respects the mission of BAN, but strongly disagrees that the evidence justifies the conclusion that BAN has reached."

BAN's press release and evidentiary report caused another agency, R-2, to immediately de-list Intercon, according to the company, which says it has also suffered reputational damage with its suppliers and customers.

Will Congress Ban Toxic E-Waste Trade?

It's the dark side of electronic recycling: The old computer you drop off at a local recycling event may end up in a developing country with lax environmental and safety laws. Once abroad, impoverished workers - and sometimes children - use their bare hands to harvest the e-waste's precious metals, exposing themselves and the local environment to toxic chemicals. Reps. Gene Green, D-Texas, and Mike Thompson, D-Calif., hope to put an end to this practice, introducing a bill to the House of Representatives late last month that would ban the export of certain electronic waste containing toxic materials.

READ: E-Cycling May Pose Major Health Risks

Under the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, e-waste prohibited from export would include equipment containing cathode ray tubes, mercury lamps and switches, and batteries made from lead, cadmium or mercury. The bill would allow the non-toxic metal, glass and plastic components from electronics to be shipped to developing countries for recycling.

Also exempt from the proposed legislation are electronic products that need to be returned to the manufacturer due to a warranty repair or product recall. U.S. recyclers can also continue to sell working electronics for reuse in developing countries; there is a large market abroad for used cell phones, for example.

READ: How to Get Paid For Your Old Gadgets

"This legislative approach is consistent with the e-waste policies adopted by most other developed nations via international treaties, such as the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment," says Thompson's office in a statement.

Supporters of the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act say that the export ban will have the side-benefit of increasing the number of recycling jobs in the U.S.

"We've been exporting a lot of jobs with our e-waste," says Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, in the nonprofit's blog. "Responsible recyclers here in the U.S. tell us they could add more jobs here and expand their operations if this law were passed.but they can't compete with someone exporting to the countries with weak laws and no health and safety requirements. This bill would allow them to grow their businesses and add jobs, especially important in this economy."

Exporting e-waste also poses a threat to national security, according to the bill's advocates.

"E-waste exports, including government computers and hard drives, have been found with sensitive government data still on them," Thompson's office says. "Additionally, e-waste is fueling a growing counterfeit chip market in China, infusing fake military-grade chips into our military supply chain."

READ: What Really Happens to Your E-Waste

The proposed legislation has bipartisan support from two Republican co-sponsors, Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, as well as the backing of electronics manufacturers Hewlett Packard, Dell, Samsung, Apple and Best Buy.

While 29 recyclers, representing 74 recycling operations in 34 states, have endorsed the bill, other recyclers oppose the export ban.

Eric Harris, director of international and government affairs and associate counsel for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), says the recycling trade association is starting to see more state-of-the-art recycling facilities in developing countries that are both safe for the workers and the environment.

"If a facility anywhere in the world is recycling in an environmentally sound manner and protecting worker safety, that facility should be able to participate in the global economy," he says. "If we really want to get to the issue of alleviating illegal pollution and creating good-paying jobs in the recycling industry, an export ban won't accomplish that goal."

Harris thinks the solution is a voluntary, market-based certification system, like the EPA's Responsible Recycling Practices certification program, which verifies that electronics recyclers are meeting high environmental and safety standards.

Accompanion bill to the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act was introduced in the Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Both bills are headed to the appropriate committee for consideration.

Thompson and Green introduced nearly identical legislation in Congress' last session, but the bill did not advance past the committee.

READ: Illinois Passes Lofty E-Cycling Legislation

Certification audit exposes exporter

Illinois-based electronics recycling firm Intercon Solutions has become the first processor to be denied e-Stewards Certification for what the Basel Action Network says is “compelling evidence” that the company exported electronic waste to Hong Kong. In a letter to Intercon CEO Brian Brundage dated June 28, BAN executive director Jim Puckett said the organization would not be accepting Intercon into the e-Stewards Certification program based on evidence BAN collected showing the company exported containers of electronics – a violation of the conditions for e-Stewards Certification and likely the import laws of Hong Kong. BAN presented photographic and documentary evidence it collected showing electronic scrap in one Intercon Solutions shipping container bound for Hong Kong in 2009, and two additional shipping containers bound for Hong Kong in 2011.

“The final decision by BAN to deny the certification took place only after an on-site audit had been conducted and after direct discussions between BAN and Intercon Solutions failed to convince BAN that Intercon Solutions had not exported the toxic containers,” read an official statement from the Seattle-based watchdog. “Such export is a violation of the e-Stewards Standard and is likely also to violate the importation laws of Hong Kong, the U.S. federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Illinois state law governing the conduct of registered electronics recyclers.”

“We determined we had a serious problem just before we began the Phase 2 audit during the certification process,” says Puckett, speaking with E-Scrap News. “We made sure to have an observer there during the third-party auditing process after that and began the process of trying to work with [Intercon] on this problem. After they continued to deny ownership of the containers, or that the events took place, we took the action that we did.”

As part of being denied certification, BAN says it will bar the company from e-Stewards certification for a minimum of two years.

“We gave them plenty of opportunities to work with us and correct their behavior, but we just kept getting denials,” continues Puckett.

Several attempts to contact representatives of Intercon Solutions, including Brundage, by E-Scrap News were unsuccessful at press time [see update below].

In a marketing letter postmarked June 30, two days after the company received its correspondence from BAN, Intercon Solutions business development director Dan Hagan bills the company as one that will “Properly recycle anything that does not contain a liquid with zero landfill, zero export, zero remarketing, zero incineration and zero shredding.”

Intercon's marketing letter also highlights the company's other certifications, including the R2 and RIOS standards. However, shortly after the story broke on July 5, R2 Solutions, the housing body for the standard, announced it had delisted Intercon Solutions from its directory of R2 processors. R2 Solutions said it took the action based on data provided to it by BAN, which showed that the company violated the R2 certification's provision against exporting “focus materials,” such as batteries, CRT glass, circuit boards, mercury and other hazardous substances.

Intercon Solutions' current troubles may soon extend beyond certification. BAN says officials in Hong Kong are taking enforcement action against the importing firm documented in the evidence. BAN says that action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is possible against Intercon directly, although a more immediate concern is its status as a registered processor under Illinois' state electronics recycling program, which requires companies exporting covered electronics to meet all laws of the United States and the recipient country, and to keep records of their export activity for a period of three years.

Intercon Solutions is a major electronics processor in Illinois and the surrounding region. For example, it is a member of the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries and according to the company has 12 sites, processing approximately 143 million pounds of electronics per year. SAI Global conducted third-party audits of the company for the e-Stewards certification process. BAN says any outstanding issues regarding payment for services during the auditing process will have to be resolved between the two firms.

*UPDATE: Just after going to press with this story, E-Scrap News was contacted by a lawyer representing Intercon Solutions, who provided the following statement:

“Intercon Solutions does not export hazardous waste. While Intercon Solutions has the highest respect for BAN's mission, it has reviewed its findings and the evidence in no way justifies the conclusion that Intercon Solutions exported hazardous waste. Intercon Solutions has hired a law firm to review the matter and to protect its reputation in the e-cycling industry.”

California congressman tackles toxic trade in new bill

Modern-day alchemy is alive and thriving. Impoverished populations in China, India, Nigeria and Ghana burn old desktop computers, hard drives and circuit boards, breathing in metallic fumes while searching for minuscule amounts of gold and other valuable metals embedded in computer chips. Sometimes the men, women and children who spend hours each day burning plastic, wires, tin and lead-laden tubes are rewarded with hard drives holding personal data that they can sell to scammers. Other days, the tools of the 21st century are ripped apart, then dumped into rivers, in open fields and irrigation canals, their toxins permeating well water, their poisonous fumes pervading entire communities.

Old laptops and cellphones, quickly trashed when their owners upgrade, are called hazardous electronic waste, or e-waste. In recent years, U.S. recycling companies have evaded environmental standards, exporting large quantities of e-waste to developing countries, most of which don’t have the technology to properly salvage electronics or the political will to protect their workers from toxic materials.

“It’s cheaper for e-recycling to take place overseas,” said Mike Enberg, the e-Stewards manager at Basel Action Network, a watchdog organization focused on the “toxic trade,” or American exportation of e-waste to Third World countries. “There are few environmental and safety requirements overseas and labor is very inexpensive.”

The incentive of offshore labor, though, does not factor in the impacts the toxic trade causes, according to Reps. Gene Green (D-Texas) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), who have joined forces to corral the practice.

Introduced early this week, HR 2284, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, aims to prohibit exportation of restricted electronics containing toxic material.

The legislation would add a section to the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to control hazardous waste. It would allow the agency to ban exportation of restricted electronic equipment, defined by its concentrations of certain hazardous metals.

So far 25 states have passed e-waste-recycling legislation, including California, but these laws do not ban exports, a trade issue outside the jurisdiction of states. California’s electronics recycling allows for the collection and recycling of laptops, portable DVD players and most televisions with a screen bigger than 4 inches. These devices are identified by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control as hazardous waste when discarded.

“The states have been passing laws that are already increasing the amount of e-waste collected for recycling, instead of land-filling,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Unfortunately, these laws can’t stop recyclers from simply sending our e-waste, and our jobs, to developing nations where improper handling threatens health and the environment. But Congress can.”

Companies in developing countries, paid unknown amounts to salvage e-waste, burn devices, flush them with acids, and melt their parts in unsafe conditions. Critics say 80% of children in Guiyu, China, a region where many “recycled” electronics wind up, have elevated levels of lead in their blood from the toxins in those electronics, many of which comes from the U.S.

Burning the plastics in the electronics produces deadly dioxin or furans, which are breathed in by workers and nearby residents, according to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, an organization for responsible recycling.

The coalition, along with the Basel Action Network and manufacturers Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Apple and Best Buy, have pushed to end the dumping of e-waste in developing countries. They also are pushing recycling companies in the U.S. to abide by EPA safety standards, upgrade their recycling technology and create more jobs.

“This bill accomplishes two things," Green said. "First, it prevents hazardous material from being shipped where it will be mishandled and cause health and environmental damage, and second, it is a green jobs bill and will create work here in the U.S., processing these used products in safe ways. applaud HP for leading on this issue and their responsible recycling.”

Companies that recycle e-waste domestically, such as eSCO Processing & Recycling, based in Arkansas, tout the ban as a jobs producer. “Not only is this bill good for the environment, but it gives a boost to small-business recyclers and creates more green jobs. This is what both the industry and our customers want,” said eSCO Chief Executive Dewayne Burns.

Some, however, believe the bill would eliminate jobs by forcing recycling companies to cut labor costs to compensate for expensive technological upgrades.

“The expectation is that current recyclers can and should do better to invest in their companies and become more responsible,” Enberg said, “thereby keeping those jobs and their business.”

Thompson said the bill also addresses national security concerns: E-waste exports, including government computers and hard drives, have been found with sensitive government data still in them, according to Caroline Hogan, spokeswoman for the congressman.

In a 2009 Frontline/World report, hard drives containing information about U.S. government contracts with the Defense Intelligence Agency, NASA, and the Department of Homeland Security were uncovered in an e-waste dump in Ghana.

Rare-earth minerals found in cellphones and computers are also key to national security. The 17 metallic elements that make up rare-earth metals are vital to the production of clean-energy technologies, including hybrid cars, wind turbines and solar panels. They also are key to manufacturing numerous weapons, and China controls 97% of the world’s supply.

The Government Accountability Office has warned that the U.S has become dependent on other countries for it rare-earth metals, putting the nation in a precarious position as China has reduced exports and increased export taxes on the materials by 15% to 25% because of its own surge in consumption in recent years.

The bill includes provisions for research into recycling and recovery of these precious metals from electronics.

In 2010, Thompson authorized a provision in HR 2701, the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2010, that will require the inspector general of the intelligence community to study threats posed to national security by governmental e-waste and identify methods to decrease vulnerability. The report is due by October.

“[HR 2284] is both a boon to the health of our environment and our U.S. economy,” said Jim Puckett, executive director of the Basel Action Network. “With it, we stop squandering critical metals resources, stop poisoning children, and we create good recycling industry jobs in the USA at the same time.”

The bill has bipartisan support, including Republican co-sponsors Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio and Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska. The legislation also has the support of 29 recyclers with 74 operations in 34 states.

As e-waste piles up, disposal issues grow

Trashed computers, TVs and other gadgets make up the fastest-growing municipal waste stream in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency. As much as 80% of electronic waste goes out with the trash, the EPA estimates, while only about 20% is properly recycled. "Everyone has e-waste. Whether it's your mom who has three cellphones in her desk or your dad who owns the largest corporation in the world," says John Shegerian, the CEO of Electronic Recyclers International, which handles a large amount of recycled electronics. Overall, the recycling industry accounts for $236 billion in annual revenue, according to the U.S. Recycling Economic Information Study commissioned by the EPA.

Recycling of many materials — such as glass, paper and plastics — is common practice for many Americans. Yet, when eco-conscious people want to winnow down a growing stash of unneeded tech products, how do they do that in an environmentally friendly way?

For starters, don't just throw your electronics in the trash.

Many gadgets have toxic materials in them that might be released in a landfill or when burned in an incinerator, says Barbara Kyle, national coordinator for the Electronics Take-Back Coalition. "It seems pretty obvious, but it's not to a lot of people," Kyle says.

Awareness of the e-waste problem has grown, prompting about half the states to pass some sort of e-waste recycling law. But consumers who want to get rid of unwanted devices properly have a growing list of options:

Recycling manufacturers. Companies such as LG, Panasonic, Samsung and Sony have joined the Consumer Electronic Association's eCycling Leadership Initiative, announced in April, which aims to recycle one billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016, up from the 300 million pounds of electronics recycled in 2010. "It's us trying to put our best foot forward to having a national program about electronic recycling," says CEA's Tim Doyle.

For a list of dozens of companies that accept products for recycling go to: digitaltips.org/green/default.asp.

Recycling retailers. Retailers such as Best Buy, Office Depot, Staples and Target accept many products for recycling at their stores. For free, a small fee or a monetary incentive, these stores serve as pick-up spots for discarded consumer electronics, with the ultimate goal of reducing this growing form of waste.

The discarded cellphones, TVs, laptops and computers are then brought to an electronic recycling plant, such as one of ERI's seven locations, which recycles about 160 million pounds of e-waste annually, for salvaging.

For information about which stores participate and what products they will take back, go toepa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm.

Green recyclers. Not all recyclers are created equal when it comes to the proper disposal of e-waste. To identify those that observe best practices, the Basel Action Network last year began auditing and certifying electronics recyclers under its e-Stewards program.

E-Stewards recyclers remove hazardous materials from electronics, as well as mine products such as cellphones, if they're not reused, for precious metals such as silver, gold, palladium and copper. Gold can also be recovered from computers. And none of their e-waste is shipped overseas where it could contaminate the environment of developing countries.

"People have hung onto things for years because they didn't know what to do with it," says Lauren Dykes of New York-based WeRecycle, which removes hazardous materials from electronics and processes reusable equipment or material. For a list of e-Steward recyclers, go to e-stewards.org.

Increased concerns about exportation of recycled e-waste polluting the water supply and contaminating soil in developing countries has become a hot-button issue internationally, domestically and locally.

Last month, the EPA awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant to the United Nations University (an international community of scholars) to develop a more effective way to measure e-waste, address concerns about illegal e-waste shipment cocerns and assess the routes through which used electronics exit the country.

Manufacturers have responded to public opposition to e-waste exportation. "We are intent on not letting recycled end-of-life products leave the country and be disassembled in places that aren't handling it correctly, because there are toxic metals in old TVs and other devices," says Peter Fannon, Panasonic's vice president of technology policy. Among the toxic materials: lead in older TV tube glass and TV soldering, and mercury in older LCD displays.

Seven years ago, Panasonic quit using lead or hazardous materials in TV production, he says.

In this session of Congress, Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, says he plans to resubmit a bill prohibiting the exportation of e-waste. Public support has also driven state legislatures to pass e-waste measures. "It is prompting people to look a little more carefully at how this is getting there," Kyle says, "and 'Is the TV I haul to my Earth Day collection event going to end up in this backyard recycling dump in China?'"

E-waste is not going away soon. Consumers are expected to continue to snap up new electronics; meanwhile, they still have as many as 99 million analog TVs to dispose of, the EPA estimates.

As e-waste grows and concerns mount, it's time for a change, Shegerian says. "We have a long way to go," he says. "Once people know that they shouldn't be throwing away their cellphones or their laptops or their iPads or their copying machine, once they know the dangers that exist if they do that — they want to do the right thing."

Toxic ship banned in Bangladesh heads for India

The 31,0000 ton oil carrier, Gulf Jash, a ship previously known as Probo Koala, was banned from entering Bangladesh for ship breaking for environmental safety reasons. The tanker is believed to contain hazardous asbestos, PCBs, toxic paints, and chemical residues. In 2006, Probo Koala caused the death of 16 people in Ivory Coast when it dumped toxic chemicals along the country’s coastline.A hazard inherent to ship-breaking is the tremendous risk of asbestos exposure. Asbestos is a highly toxic mineral fiber that was used in the building of boats throughout the 19th and 20th centuries The use of asbestos has been banned in most developed nations for causing such serious illnesses as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the protective lining of the body’s major organs and cavities. However, asbestos has not been banned in most Asian countries, making them popular breaking destinations for toxic boats.

Now it is feared that the Gulf Jash is headed for India’s Gujarat Port en route to the Alang ship-breaking yard. Dismantling ships is one of the most polluting industries in the world. Ship breaking workers are regularly exposed to carcinogens, and in Asia, they are rarely provided proper safety equipment. Inhaling asbestos on a daily basis is the sole cause of pleural mesothelioma, a cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, and a disease prevalent among shipyard workers.

Health and safety experts say that countries such as Indian and Bangladesh will continue to be the dumping grounds for toxic ships until laws are put in place requiring that all ships be dismantled in their country of origin

U.S. Cargo Ship Poised To Dump Toxic Waste On Bangladesh

A U.S. flagged cargo vessel called “HARRIETTE” was cleared on 1 June by the U.S. Maritime Administration for scrapping on the notorious beaches of Chittagong, Bangladesh with the surprising support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In past years, EPA required that older U.S. flagged vessels be tested for toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) prior to being exported to foreign scrap yards, as the export of PCBs violates the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA has been the only legal means of preventing the toxic dumping of obsolete U.S. ships on Asian beaches, where impoverished workers dismantle ships by hand and suffer from accidental loss of life and occupational disease. Now, EPA seems willing to ignore its obligation to diligently administer TSCA, as directed by Congress, and instead of testing, is allowing ship owners to self-certify that their ships are PCB free -- effectively permitting the possibility of illegal export of toxic PCB waste to the developing world with a see-no-evil policy.

“Self-certification has time and time again proven to be a failed process of regulating industry,” said BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director, Colby Self. “Ship owners who routinely maximize profits by dumping hazardous waste ships to be broken down by desperately poor laborers in primitive conditions are the wrong people to police themselves.”

In January 2010, the U.S. Maritime Administration prompted the U.S. EPA to review the HARRIETTE vessel transfer request, as filed by U.S. owner Sealift Inc., to assure compliance with TSCA. MARAD awaited a recommendation from EPA since January; however, EPA declined to review or make a recommendation, completely disregarding their obligations under TSCA. In the recent past, EPA had always required ship owners to test their vessels if there was a likelihood of PCB presence within the ships structural materials. MARAD then authorized the transfer request based solely on self-certifying claims from the ship owner.

EPA’s inaction positions the beneficiary with regulating his own actions, with a favorable determination bringing the owner a reported USD$3.2 million in the case of the HARRIETTE. Another vessel known as the PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND followed a similar path in March, in which the owners netted a reported USD$10 million from ship breakers at Alang, India. This U.S. vessel also was suspected of containing PCBs due to its 1975 year of construction and yet was never required to be tested.

“It appears that the Obama Administration has made a deliberate change in policy to knowingly turn a blind eye to the fate of U.S. flagged ships being scrapped on Asian beaches,” said Mr. Self. “Sadly this is being done even when they know the exports will result in untimely death and disease and are in fact being exported in contravention of U.S. law.”

The HARRIETTE was constructed in Japan between 1976-1978, and due to limited regulations under the Japanese Chemical Substances Control Law at that time, there is high probability that the vessel was built with toxic components, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos, lead and TBT based paints. EPA’s own guidance documents suggest vessels of this vintage (pre-1979) are assumed to contain regulated concentrations of PCBs (equal to or greater than 50 parts per million) unless sampling of all suspected materials prove otherwise. No sampling was conducted on the HARRIETTE nor on the PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND.

Further, the HARRIETTE’s export to the ship breaking beaches of Bangladesh is not only a likely violation of U.S. environmental regulation but also a breach of the United Nations Basel Convention, which prohibits the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes from a non-party, such as the United States, to a member state, such as Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh is urged to ban the HARRIETTE from the ship breaking beaches of Chittagong and to uphold the principles of the Basel Convention in the same manner as their recent ban on the vessel called GULF JASH.