For years now, Perry Gottesfeld has been globe-trotting in search of lead paints. These have been banned for decades from U.S. and European buildings because they poison children as they deteriorate. But as Gottesfeld, executive director of the U.S.-based NGO Occupational Knowledge International, and others have been showing, there’s still plenty of lead paint for sale in developing nations.Read More
A record-breaking number 365 toxic-laden ships were sent for breaking by European shipowners to the beaches of South Asia in 2012, according to a list released today by the NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of environmental, human rights and labor rights organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling. This number represents a 75% increase from 2011, when 210 EU-owned ships were sent for breaking in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan.Read More
The draft regulation implementing the Hong Kong convention on ship recycling would breach EU obligations under international waste shipment rules, environment ministers have been told ahead of their 25 October meeting.
In a letter to member states' permanent representations in Brussels, the NGO Shipbreaking Platform warned that the European Commission's proposal from March would in effect remove the vast majority of end-of-life ships from the 2006 regulation implementing the Basel convention on hazardous waste shipments.
Under the Basel convention, exports of hazardous waste from OECD to non-OECD countries are banned. This includes end-of-life vessels containing toxic substances.
"The commission proposal constitutes a unilateral departure from the [Basel] provisions that is not allowed by the convention," said professor Ludwig Kraemer, an EU legal expert from NGO ClientEarth who once advised the EU executive's environment department on legal matters.
Under the proposal, owners of large commercial ships would have to keep a certified inventory of any hazardous materials such as asbestos, PCBs, and oil sludge onboard, and reduce their levels before the ship is recycled. The ships would have to be dismantled in an EU-approved facility inside or outside of Europe.
It will be discussed by environment ministers on 25 October. In a compromise text, the previous Danish presidency proposed that the draft regulation should apply two years after its publication rather than one year as proposed by the commission.
But the council text, which is now in the hands of Cyprus, introduces some improvements compared with the commission's proposal. For example, the publication of a European list of recycling facilities would be brought forward.
In a related development, an IMO committee has adopted two sets of guidelines regarding the Hong Kong convention. One deals with the certification of ships while the other covers inspections. They will help recycling facilities and shipping firms comply with the convention, although it has not yet entered force.
A trial by jury convicted Executive Recycling, formerly of Englewood, Colorado and two of its top executives in a Denver Federal Court this morning for illegally exporting hazardous waste electronics to developing countries. Executives Tor Olson and Brandon Richter were convicted of criminal charges for illegal export of hazardous waste, smuggling, obstruction of justice, and wire and mail fraud. Brandon Richter was the former owner and CEO of Executive, an electronics recycler that also had locations in Utah and Nebraska. Executive Recycling has since changed its name to Techcycle. The charges came after the Basel Action Network (BAN), a toxic trade watchdog organization, observed and photographed 20 seagoing containers leaving the Executive Recycling loading docks and tracked them overseas. BAN then gave the information to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Enforcement, the Government Accountability Office, and CBS News. Executive Recycling was then featured in a sting type investigation on CBS News' 60 Minutes in an episode entitled “The Wasteland” which followed one of Executive's containers to China with BAN's Executive Director Jim Puckett. Following that episode, EPA Enforcement and Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), indicted Executive Recycling on 16 criminal counts. BAN claims that the export activities of the company are still a very common practice in North America and most often companies get away with it.
“This conviction is very welcome, but sadly as we speak, there are many hundreds of other fake recyclers out there that are loading up Asian-bound containers full of our old toxic TVs and computers,” said Puckett. “Every day about 100 containers of toxic e-waste arrive in the Port of Hong Kong alone. We hope this conviction sends a very strong message to business and the public that they should only use the most responsible recyclers.”
To help the public make good choices for their electronic waste (e-waste), BAN joined forces with business leaders to create the e-Stewards Certification program. e-Stewards is the only electronic recycling certification program that ensures through annual audits that companies will never export hazardous wastes electronics to developing countries. Areas like Guiyu township in China have been seriously contaminated by toxic e-waste imports. Lead levels in the blood of children there are some of the highest in the world.
BAN also maintains that clear and strict legislation is needed to make such export activity explicitly illegal in the United States as it is in the rest of the world. According to BAN, prosecuting the Executive case was very difficult for the government as they were forced to make their case using fraud, smuggling, and other charges, as the environmental export laws we have are vague and ineffective. BAN has joined forces with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, as well as the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling (CAER) in support of the bipartisan Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, which, if passed, will bring the US in compliance with international Basel Convention decisions forbidding export of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries.
“Executive Recycling was caught this time,” Puckett said, “but it has been almost impossible for the government to prosecute this kind of very common activity due to a lack of appropriate legislation. If we can pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act in Congress we could put a quick halt to the horrors of criminal waste trafficking.”
The U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) has adopted a new policy that effectively terminates the federal artificial reefing program that allowed the scuttling of old ships for so-called “artificial reefs” – a practice that dates back to the Liberty Ship Act of1972. Since the program’s inception, approximately 45 ships have been disposed of at sea, along with untold tons of toxic substances such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and heavy metals built into each vessel, as well as many millions of dollars worth of steel and non-ferrous metal resources. U.S. based environmental organization Basel Action Network (BAN), which has actively campaigned against the government-sponsored ocean dumping program, hails this news as a victory for U.S. jobs in the domestic ship recycling industry and a win for the environment. “The Obama Administration got this one right, and they should be commended for finally putting into place a more conservative policy that protects our resources, our jobs, as well as the marine environment,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network.
MARAD’s new policy has not been announced publicly but became effective on 29 May 2012, according to Curt Michanczyk, Director of the Office of Ship Disposal of the Maritime Administration. MARAD’s new policy excludes from artificial reefing consideration of any vessel that was built before 1985 (and likely to contain PCBs). PCBs are a persistent toxic chemical family that is described by the U.S. EPA as potentially carcinogenic to humans and builds-up in the marine food chain. They are banned from use and production under the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act.
Currently, all 38 so called “non-retention” ships that are designated for disposal in MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), mostly made up of ex-naval vessels, were built before 1985 and will thus all go to domestic recyclers. Of all the 125 vessels owned by MARAD in the NDRF, all of which will be designated “non-retention” at some point in the future, only one of these vessels was built after 1985. This is the only vessel that could be considered for artificial reefing when it is designated for disposal, but only if it is not viable for recycling within two years after disposal designation.
There is little doubt that the post-sinking monitoring study of the sunken Ex-Oriskany aircraft carrier in Florida played an important role in the development of MARAD’s new policy. This study, conducted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, was not publicly available until BAN highlighted its findings in their July 2011 report entitled Dishonorable Disposal: The Case Against Dumping U.S. Naval Vessels at Sea. The study found PCB migration into the marine food chain from the sunken aircraft carrier Ex-Oriskany and for the first time called into question the practice of sinking ships containing toxic bioaccumulative substances.
The U.S. Navy’s artificial reefing policy also appears to be heading in a similar direction as MARAD’s, as evidenced by the Navy’s sudden decision last year to recycle the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal and three other carriers, rather than scuttle them. This decision came in 2011 following a shorter BAN report and submission to the Navy, entitled Jobs and Dollars Overboard: The Economic Case Against Dumping U.S. Naval Vessels at Sea, highlighting the favorable economics of recycling. The Navy later informed BAN that the decision to recycle these vessels was made on economic grounds due to the price of scrap commodities.
BAN applauds the government for rejecting the “dump first” MARAD policy in favor of recycling but is now seeking a similar stance with respect to the Navy’s SINKEX (sinking exercise) program. SINKEX sinks non-retention vessels during live-fire target practice without complete removal of toxic pollutants, including PCBs. Sinking preparation for SINKEX is much less stringent than required of artificial reef preparation, as the EPA exempted the Navy and SINKEX from environmental regulations that would otherwise require removal of regulated concentrations of PCBs. Since this exemption in 1999, the Navy has sunk 117 vessels, the most recent of which included three sinkings near Hawaii in July 2012.
Approximately $20.5 million in fully recoverable scrap steel, aluminum and copper and hundreds of recycling jobs were lost with the scuttling of these three vessels. A fourth vessel is planned for sinking in 2012 via SINKEX in the coming months. BAN has joined with the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for continuing to allow the SINKEX program to sink toxic vessels at sea.
The Basel Action Network (BAN), represented by its legal team consisting of the firms, John Phillips Law Group, PLLC (Seattle) and Winston and Strawn (Chicago) have responded to Chicago Heights company Intercon Solutions' recent lawsuit that alleged “defamation” and “false light” against BAN and its Executive Director, Jim Puckett. BAN denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim against Intercon Solutions asking for “declaratory relief” to restore BAN's full credibility and to recognize that BAN has told the truth in the matter regarding the export of electronic waste to China by Intercon Solutions. Two weeks ago, BAN removed the case from Illinois State Court to Federal Court in Chicago. “BAN intends to vigorously defend itself and its most valuable asset – its credibility,” said BAN's legal counsel John Phillips. “BAN is not going to be intimidated by this lawsuit or prevented from pursuing the public interest through objective investigation and reporting of the exportation of hazardous waste to the developing world. We will not rest until the truth in this case is known to all concerned.”
The Intercon lawsuit followed by almost one year, BAN's refusal to grant a license to Intercon Solutions to be certified under its e-Stewards Certification program for responsible electronics recyclers ( www.e-stewards.org). BAN refused Intercon the license because it obtained clear documentation that containers on Intercon's premises were shipped to China and Hong Kong -- a clear violation of the e-Stewards Standard. In accordance with the e-Stewards program's policy, Intercon was investigated and subsequently suspended from the possibility of becoming certified for at least 2 years. In this case, BAN photographed intermodal containers leaving the highly-secured property of Intercon Solutions and tracked them to China. One of the containers was opened by Hong Kong authorities at the bequest of BAN. The Hong Kong authorities then notified BAN and US EPA that the container in question did indeed contain hazardous electronic waste and was illegal to import into Hong Kong. BAN subsequently made public what it had discovered and the reasons for suspending Intercon Solutions.
In 2008-2009, BAN with CBS's 60 Minutes program, exposed another electronics recycling firm, Executive Recycling of Denver, Colorado, by photographing their containers and following them with the journalists to Hong Kong. BAN also notified federal authorities. Executive Recycling executives are currently under indictment for 16 criminal counts for illegal export and fraud. BAN will be witnesses for the government prosecution in that case.
The Basel Action Network ( www.ban.org) is named after the Basel Convention, a United Nations treaty designed to halt the exploitation caused by the export and dumping of toxic wastes of all kinds on developing countries. BAN is a non-profit organization which seeks to implement the Basel Convention and to prevent toxic trade and global environmental injustice.
Two tankers owned and operated by Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Mexico’s state-owned oil company, were recently sold for breaking on the notorious shipbreaking beaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The arrival of these obsolete vessels, the Sebastian and the De Marz, in South Asia without notice and without first being pre-cleaned of the tons of hazardous materials built into each ship is a clear violation of the UN Basel Convention and Mexican law. The Mexican government had just last year promised Basel Convention watchdog group the Basel Action Network (BAN) that such exports of Mexican ships were illegal and would not be allowed. BAN is now calling on the newly elected Mexican Government to take immediate corrective action by repatriating the two vessels to Mexico. "Mexico has violated its own laws and international law. In accordance with Mexico’s obligations under the Basel Convention, these toxic ships must be repatriated immediately,” said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network. “The governments of Bangladesh and Pakistan must be told to return the ships and under no circumstances allow them to be scrapped on their beaches.”
BAN, a member organization of the global NGO Shipbreaking Platform, initiated contact with the Mexian Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) in a letter(1) in October 2010, alerting officials of PEMEX’s plan to sell a number of obsolete tankers to foreign interests for scrap. At that time, the government replied, stating that they had intervened to block the sale of three PEMEX tankers and imposed restrictions on PEMEX’s future sales to prevent the illegal export of the vessels.
Over the next 18 months, BAN monitored what appeared to be continuous efforts by PEMEX to circumvent the law, and on April 6 informed the Mexican Government that PEMEX was again trying to sell the vessels under the claim that the vessels would be sold for continued use rather than disposal, an apparent attempt to bypass the Basel Convention rules on disposal of hazardous waste. BAN informed SEMARNAT that these vessels were already banned under MARPOL from operating as tankers due to their single-hull configurations and age, and therefore any claim of continued use was likely false. Nevertheless Mexican officials disregarded BAN’s warning and allowed the vessels to depart for alleged re-use, only to sail directly to Pakistan and Bangladesh for scrapping last month.
In an April 30, 2012 letter(2) from the office of Mexico’s representative to the Basel Convention, BAN was told that if these vessels attempted to enter foreign shipbreaking yards, Mexico would view such maneuvers as “illegal traffic” under Article 9 of the Basel Convention as Mexico did not authorize scrapping at foreign yards in non-OECD countries. It is now confirmed that this illegal traffic actually did occur. The Mexican government has not responded to BAN’s inquiries as to why its promised enforcement of its own laws as well as international law did not take place.
The ships are suspected of containing high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), asbestos and other hazardous wastes. Mexico has implemented the Basel Ban Amendment into domestic law, which means the export of hazardous wastes is only allowed to OECD countries, EU countries and Liechtenstein. Pakistan and Bangladesh are non-OECD countries, and therefore these nations and others cannot legally receive these vessels as waste from Mexico unless the ships are first fully decontaminated. Alternatively, the ships could have been recycled safely in a proper facility in Mexico, the U.S. or another OECD or EU country.
Shipbreaking in Pakistan and Bangladesh takes place under extremely dangerous and polluting conditions where workers labor on tidal sands to cut ships up by hand, exposing themselves to the risks of toxic chemicals, fires, explosions and falling steel plates. Pollutants are allowed to flow unimpeded into the marine environment.
Last year, two former PEMEX tankers were recycled at Mexican yards following the Government’s proper intervention following a BAN warning which created hundreds of local recycling jobs in Mexico.
“Why the sudden change of policy? We hope it does not reflect a cynical calculation that money is more important than worrying about damaging the global environment, exploiting impoverished Asian laborers, or providing good jobs by doing the scrapping job safely and cleanly at home,” said Self.
The U.S. Navy’s ‘Great Green Fleet,’ joined by twenty-two friendly nations, will fire-on and sink three inactive U.S. naval warships this summer off the coast of Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games. The ships are contaminated with toxic heavy metals and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) based on documentation of known contaminants found in more than 100 ships previously sunk by the Navy over the past twelve years. According to environmental groups, sinking – instead of recycling – these ships will send toxic chemicals into the marine environment and needlessly deprive the U.S. ship recycling industry of both resources and jobs. The deliberate sinking of the vessels is part of a target practice ship disposal exercise known as SINKEX (sinking exercise). This year’s operation will be the first such ocean dumping of old ships since the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) placed a moratorium on SINKEX in 2011, and the first since Sierra Club and the Basel Action Network (BAN), represented by Earthjustice, filed a formal complaint against the U.S. EPA for continuing to allow the ocean dumping of toxins on SINKEX vessels.
“The hypocrisy of the Navy’s new ecological ‘Great Green Fleet’ demonstrating its “greenness” by sinking ships containing globally banned pollutants off the coast of Hawaii is particularly ironic,” said Colby Self of BAN’s Green Ship Recycling Campaign. “But the realization that this choice by the Navy to dump poisons into the marine environment is not only unnecessary, but also is costing Americans hundreds of green recycling jobs, makes this SINKEX program both an environmental and an economic insult.”
The vessels Kilauea, Niagara Falls and Concord are slated for sinking at RIMPAC, while a fourth vessel, the Coronado is slated for sinking as part of the SINKEX at operation Valiant Shield 2012, scheduled for the Pacific later this year. The SINKEX program allows the Navy to fire on inactive naval warships to practice gunnery and torpedo accuracy. Proponents say sinking live targets is essential for fleet readiness, while many military experts suggest that firing on idle ships is not representative of live combat scenarios and there are viable training alternatives with less environmental consequence, such as using simulations or clean inflatable targets.
Proponents also cite the economic boost when 25,000 military personnel from around the world arrive in Hawaii. However this boost comes irrespective of the SINKEX exercise as it is only a minor part of the larger RIMPAC training syllabus which lasts the entire month of July.
Together, the sinking of these four vessels would needlessly waste valuable resources by sending approximately 38,000 tons of fully recyclable steel, aluminum, copper and lead to the ocean floor, valued at approximately $27.6 million in today's scrap market. Lost too with the sinking of these vessels would be hundreds of U.S. ship recycling jobs.
In April 2012, the Center for Biological Diversity joined Sierra Club and BAN’s effort to redirect the Navy toward a more positive environmental and economic approach by petitioning the EPA to rescind an exemption from environmental laws it has granted the Navy for the SINKEX program. The petition asserts that continued SINKEX operations violate U.S. and international ocean dumping regulations including the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act; Toxic Substances Control Act; London Convention; London Protocol; Stockholm Convention; Basel Convention; and various OECD agreements.
“PCBs have been banned globally because they’re some of the most dangerous pollutants around,” said Emily Jeffers of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They leach from sunken ships into the ocean and bioaccumulate in the bodies of fish, dolphins, and whales. Our oceans should never be used as a dump for poison.”
The EPA and Navy admit that highly toxic chemicals are released into the marine environment as a result of SINKEX, including asbestos, lead paint, antifouling paint containing tributyltin (TBT), polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) and PCBs, a suspected carcinogen that has been targeted for global phase out and destruction under the Stockholm Convention. However, the EPA and Navy seem unwilling to consider the new scientific findings presented by the coalition that show the amount of PCBs and other pollutants from the scuttled ships is far greater than EPA believed when it exempted SINKEX from ocean dumping laws. Instead the EPA asked a Federal Judge to dismiss the complaint on procedural grounds – a request that was denied last week.
“The sinking of these vessels directly contradicts President Obama’s directives calling on federal agencies to lead by example in recycling and ocean stewardship. The pristine waters north of the island of Kauai have already become a graveyard for more than a dozen ships containing untold tons of pollutants. These sinkings must stop! This is not ocean stewardship, nor is it the action of a “Great Green Fleet,” said Robert Harris of the Sierra Club in Hawaii.
The sinking of the ships runs counter to President Barack Obama’s executive order, “Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts and the Great Lakes,” which established a national policy to ensure the protection of the health of our ocean. It also turns on its head another executive order, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” which included a call for all Federal agencies to prioritize recycling as policy.
The Sierra Club and Basel Action Network have filed their complaint in federal district court in San Francisco against the EPA asserting that continued SINKEX operations violate the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act. They are represented in this action by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm. While the EPA has permitted SINKEX and provided exemptions to various U.S. laws, the groups argue that those exemptions, granted in 1998, are based on out-dated scientific research and should be rescinded.
Investigators wearing gas masks gingerly opened a row of 20m-long steel boxes and – after testing for noxious fumes – began inspecting the rusty entrails of 1,800 tonnes of scrap metal to see if it was sent illegally to pollute the environment 7,000 miles away.
Nearly 90 containers, each weighing more than 30 tonnes, have arrived back in the bustling Suffolk dockyard of Felixstowe in the past fortnight. Their journey began last November when they left scrapyards in southern England for Indonesia labelled as "recyclable" material with a value of $500,000 (£318,000).
The shipments were part of a lucrative trade – about 10 million tonnes of waste metal flow out of Europe each year. But when the Indonesian authorities inspected the contents of the British containers, they did not like what they found. The cargo was declared hazardous, resealed and British authorities were ordered to arrange for its immediate return.
Four UK companies are now being investigated by the Environment Agency (EA) to see if they sent contaminated and potentially toxic waste to the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in contravention of laws designed to combat a global epidemic of cross-border dumping.
It is part of a wider picture in which millions of tonnes of material are flowing from the developed world to Asia and Africa, allowing criminals to profit by flouting international rules and passing off illegally-exported waste as part of a legitimate global trade in recyclable commodities worth £160bn a year.
The criminal trade, estimated to be worth at least £300m worldwide, ranges from hundreds of thousands of broken computers and televisions – so-called "e-waste" – sent to west Africa to be stripped of their heavy metals in unsafe conditions, to domestic waste smuggled out of Britain under the guise of recyclable paper or plastic. Used car tyres form an increasingly lucrative illicit market.
Andy Higham, the former detective who heads the 34-strong EA national crime team set up in 2008, said: "The financial benefits from environmental crime are similar to those from smuggling Class-A drugs but the actual penalties are very much lower. That is why it is attractive to criminals. Our job is to prove that they will be detected and will pay a heavy price."
The team investigating the containers returned from Indonesia – the inquiry is appropriately named Operation Anvil – will pick through their contents to try and find evidence the waste metal, claimed by its exporters to have been legitimately-exportable scrap metal, was mixed with hazardous contaminants allegedly found by the Indonesian authorities.
It is not an enviable task. The air was thick with the cloying smell of rust and damp as The Independent this week witnessed the opening of some of the first dozen containers shipped back from Jakarta for an initial inspection. As investigators wearing respirators slowly opened each box with a hydraulic jack to prevent tonnes of metal crashing on to them, a chemical specialist inserted a probe to test for ammonia or other gases before the doors were fully extended.
Inside one container was the oxidised, mangled product of a breakers yard – 5cm-thick chunks of steel plate, car parts, girders and unidentifiable bits of heavy plant – mixed with lengths of rubber hose, wood, broken circuit boards, plastic film and other detritus which could release toxins if smelted down in an unmodified furnace.
According to photographs taken by customs officials in Jakarta and sent back to Britain, suspect hazardous substances were found in some of the containers, meaning Operation Anvil will have to conduct further tests to assess which, if any, of Britain's strict waste export regulations have been broken.
Jeff Warburton, a senior environmental crime officer, who like other members of the crime squad is a former police detective, said: "The legislation is quite clear – there should not be any contaminants in this material. It is the very early stages of this investigation but we do take these things extremely seriously. It is absolutely right and proper that, given what the Indonesian authorities say they found, we conduct a thorough inquiry."
Looking along the line of containers, each of which may eventually have to be emptied to collate evidence, Mr Warburton, a former detective inspector with Greater Manchester Police, added: "It is expensive and it is time consuming but it is something that needs to be done.
"If material is exported that puts toxins and poisonous fumes into the air of a country where the furnaces are not equipped to filter out that material then that poses an obvious risk to the environment and the people. It is our job to stop contaminated waste being exported or, if it has left the country and been sent back, trace those responsible."
The suspect scrap shipments are part of a cash-rich – and perfectly legal – trade in waste metal for melting and recycling which has grown massively in recent years to feed commodity-hungry markets such as China. According to industry estimates, recycled goods provide 40 per cent of global raw material requirements.
At the same time, organised crime has spotted an opportunity to make quick money by loading cargo containers with mislabelled or illegal waste to be dumped abroad. With some 700,000 containers passing through British ports each year, it is impossible to check more than a fraction of cargos for illegal shipments.
Mr Warburton said: "It is the same pattern we see time and again. There is a legitimate business in which profits are to be made. Criminality sees that profit and seeks to exploit it by breaking the law."
Human rights campaigners and conservation groups have highlighted the damaging effects of the illegal trade. They point to Ghana and Nigeria where children pick through mountains of electronic waste rich in heavy metals and burn plastic casings off copper wire for less than a dollar a day, generating a rich cocktail of air and water-borne carcinogens.
In Jakarta, the authorities have reacted with alarm, pointing to the British shipments, which were mixed with 30 containers of suspect scrap metal sent from the Netherlands, as the latest in a growing influx of waste from the developed world which is shortening the lifespan of Indonesia's own landfills and causing health problems.
Masnellyarti Hilman, a senior government official dealing with hazardous waste, said: "Due to our lack of awareness, they sometimes send the waste illegally and others have falsely claimed that the waste was basic materials."
The scrap metal shipments are reminiscent of events in 2009 when 2,000 tonnes of municipal waste from across Britain, including used adult nappies, bags of rotting meat and used underwear were shipped to Brazil, allegedly under the guise of recyclable plastic.
The discovery of the shipments in three Brazilian ports sparked a diplomatic incident, with the country threatening a complaint to the World Trade Organisation. The then president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accused Britain of using his country as "the world's rubbish bin". A long and complex investigation by the Environment Agency, which traced the waste to locations from Wiltshire to Lincolnshire, is only now coming to a conclusion.
Two directors of an east London waste paper company last month pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey to exporting waste illegally, while two Brazilian nationals, who are alleged to have arranged the shipment, are due to go on trial in October.
These "reactive" investigations sit alongside the agency's preferred method of crime fighting, using intelligence to target suspected illegal exporters and other types of environmental criminals before they can do real damage.
As well as preventing the export of 51 containers of suspected illegal waste last year, this month the agency won an order requiring a crime boss jailed for four years earlier this year to pay back more than £900,000 earned from running a massive illegal waste site in Berkshire.
Mr Higham said: "Environmental crime is an extremely serious issue and we are beginning to get that message out. We know material is being stopped but the invisible side of the equation is what we have not stopped. I am not so arrogant as to say we are completely on top of this. But we are out there and we have the expertise and knowledge to catch those breaking the law."
On the scrapheap: Valuable rubbish
Four million tonnes of waste computers and appliances are generated in the West each year. Working machines can be legitimately exported but millions of broken items, containing valuable but dangerous heavy metals, are exported illegally to Africa and Asia.
There is a massive market in waste steel and metals. Annual exports from the EU grew by more than a third in the past decade to more than 10 million tonnes. Regulations require scrap metal to be free from contaminants but there is evidence countries accept dirty shipments.
Used tyres can no longer be sent to landfill in the UK. But some operators are charging fitters to dispose of tyres and then illegally exporting them to other countries such as Vietnam.
One of the biggest legitimate waste markets is in recyclable plastic. Last year, Britain exported 14 million tonnes of recyclable materials. Criminals exploit this demand by mislabelling domestic rubbish as packaging.
European exports of waste paper rose from 1.2 million to 7.8 million tonnes between 1995 and 2005. Illegal exporters pass off contaminated waste as clean paper.
The Basel Action Network (BAN), the owner of the e-Stewards® Certification for electronics recyclers, announced today that it has included the R2 (Responsible Recycling) Practices, developed earlier by an Environmental Protection Agency sponsored multi-stakeholder process, into the more comprehensive e-Stewards Standard. Already, e-Stewards certifications require adherence to and deliver the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System certification. Effective immediately, the same will now be true for R2. "Almost all of the requirements of R2 are already in the e-Stewards Standard but the reverse is certainly not true," said Jim Puckett, BAN’s Executive Director. "By itself, R2 is inadequate to the task of ensuring a high degree of responsible recycling, but we have seen that many recyclers are getting both R2 and e-Stewards Certifications due to market demands. To make things very cost effective for recyclers, we will now ensure that R2 certification is provided as long as the more rigorous e-Stewards Standard requirements are met at the same time."
BAN created the e-Stewards Standard after the R2 Standard failed to prohibit exports of hazardous electronic waste to developing countries, prohibit the use of prison labor for managing hazardous waste and sensitive data, or prohibit the dumping of hazardous materials in municipal landfills. R2 Practices is an 11-page, non-copyrighted, open-source standard. The current e-Stewards Standard is a 51-page copyrighted standard which includes the ISO 14001 Environmental Management System Standard and is available under license with the Basel Action Network.
According to BAN, there are only a few requirements in R2 that are not addressed equivalently or in a more rigorous manner in the current version of the e-Stewards Standard. Now, by virtue of the latest e-Stewards Sanctioned Interpretation, all R2 requirements are now also requirements of the new e-Stewards Standard and all e-Stewards Certifying Bodies will audit to both standards. All three e-Stewards Certifying Bodies are already accredited for R2 and already report negligible additional cost for adding R2 to the e-Stewards Certification audits when conducted at the same time.
"We are very happy to accommodate the marketplace in this way as long as the end result is more globally responsible e-cyclers," said Puckett. "With this move we can make it easier and more economical for recyclers to meet their clients' certification demands, while making the world a safer and more healthy place."
On January 31, Texas-based Exxon Mobil and its wholly owned subsidiary SeaRiver Maritime sold the S/R Long Beach, a 1987 U.S. built single-hulled tanker (sister ship to the notorious Exxon Valdez) to a Chinese shipbreaking facility. Exxon's move to dismantle the Long Beach in Asia is at odds with their December 2011 decision to recycle another tanker, the S/R Wilmington, in Brownsville, Texas. That earlier decision was applauded by domestic industry and environmental organizations alike for creating green recycling jobs in the U.S. while also remaining consistent with the decisions of the United Nation's Basel Convention, which prohibits the export of toxic wastes from developed to developing countries. Old tankers contain many toxic materials and are usually deemed as hazardous waste under international law. Exxon's most recent waste export move, however, has been criticized by global toxic trade watchdog organization Basel Action Network (BAN).
"Sadly, Exxon Mobil has reverted to outsourcing toxic waste and good recycling jobs to China simply to save a buck. We urge the company to reaffirm its commitment to only send their obsolete fleet to safe and environmentally responsible ship recycling facilities in developed countries, in country if possible. Here in the US, we have safe, effective, affordable recycling facilities that deserve the work. It would also create hundreds of US jobs," said Colby Self, Green Ship Recycling Campaign Director for the Basel Action Network.
While labor and environmental conditions in China have improved compared to others such as the infamous shipbreaking beaches of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, China still lacks the environmental and labor protections and downstream waste management capacity that exist in developed countries like the U.S.
"Exxon needs to affirm a policy of recycling toxic ships in developed countries, and we stand ready to assist them in finding green recycling yards in the North America and Europe," said Colby Self.
BAN is part of the global NGO Shipbreaking Platform which seeks global compliance with the Basel Convention, seeks to end destructive beach shipbreaking practices, and seeks to promote responsible green ship recycling.
The Basel Action Network ( BAN ) announced today that the City and County of San Francisco have achieved the status of "e-Stewards Enterprise." The designation recognizes cities, counties and companies that take concrete measures to eliminate the export of hazardous electronic waste (e-waste) to developing countries by using Certified e-Stewards® Recyclers to manage their electronic waste. "Leaders lead, and the City and County of San Francisco have demonstrated that the status quo where the majority of electronic waste is routinely dumped in developing countries or our local landfills is just not acceptable anymore," said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of BAN. "To shrink our toxic footprint and our carbon footprint, to ensure our children’s future, we are going to need more leaders in all public and private institutions to make the kind of bold move that San Francisco just made."
San Francisco joins the e-Stewards Enterprise program current members including Wells Fargo, Nestle, Bloomberg News, Capital One, Samsung, Bank of America, Alcoa Aluminum and LG. They also join King County, the seat of Seattle and Bellevue in Washington State, Santa Clara County and the City of San Jose, home to Silicon Valley.
"The technology tools we use in our everyday lives too often end up in the environment as a major source of toxic pollution. Our city's primary focus when it comes to electronics is on reuse," says Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment. "But when we do need to recycle, we are committed to doing it responsibly."
E-waste is the world’s fastest growing pollution problem. According to Time Magazine, Americans throw out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers every day. Approximately 80% of electronic waste currently delivered to recyclers is actually exported to developing countries. Improperly disposed of, the lead, mercury and other toxic materials inside e-waste poisons workers and pollute communities.
The non-profit BAN created the world's most rigorous standard for electronics recycling, called the "e-Stewards Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment." The e-Stewards Standard protects against e-waste dumping in landfills, processing by prisoners, and the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries. It also ensures worker protection and strict rules for the security of private data stored in electronics. It is the only e-waste standard to include all these protections. More than 70 environmental groups worldwide have endorsed the e-Stewards Standard.
As an e-Stewards Enterprise, San Francisco commits to using, wherever possible, recyclers that are annually audited and certified to the e-Stewards Standard. The complete list of e-Stewards Enterprises and recyclers certified to the e-Stewards Standard is available at www.e-stewards.org.
On the heels of massive quantities of toxic wastes arriving at the Jakarta Tanjung Priok Port last week, environmental groups led by Indonesia Toxics-Free Network, the Basel Action Network, Ban Toxics, and BaliFokus condemned the illegal trade and urged world governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment and to enforce the Basel Convention as a matter of urgency. Officials at the Jakarta port were able to intercept and seize the illegal shipments which originated from the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Customs officials from the two countries have already begun investigating the companies and the individuals involved in the case may yet be prosecuted. However for every shipment caught it is feared many more go unnoticed.
"We were lucky to have caught this one shipment, which begs the bigger question, how many shipments are getting through under the noses of our port officials?" asked Yuyun Ismawati, founder of the Indonesia Toxics-Free Network. "In Indonesia we have regulations on illegal toxic waste traffic based on the Basel Convention, but there needs to be better national enforcement and international cooperation to implement the law."
The environmental groups also call on all governments that have not already done so to ratify the Basel Ban Amendment. Last October 2011, the Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal passed a critical decision to ensure that only 17 more ratifications are needed to allow the Basel Ban Amendment to enter into force. The Basel Ban Amendment prohibits and makes it a crime to export toxic wastes from developed to developing countries for any reason whatsoever.
"The Basel Ban places the responsibility of policing this crime not only on the importing country, such as Indonesia, but more importantly on the developed nations as well," explains Jim Puckett, Executive Director of the Basel Action Network. "The UK and Dutch port authorities missed this shipment, and thus it is clear that there needs to be greater responsibility on the shoulders of exporting countries to police unscrupulous actors that avoid costs of proper waste management by exporting toxic waste."
Increasing toxic waste generation in developed countries, increasing costs of managing pollutants, combined with high poverty and lax implementation of environmental laws drive toxic wastes from rich to poorer countries.
The generation of electronic waste or e-waste, included in this illegal shipment, amounts to about 50 million metric tons generated annually, and is increasing rapidly. Unfortunately e-waste is toxic waste containing such toxins as lead and cadmium, and thus disposal is creating major risks for public health and environment in importing countries.
"We are reaching the tipping point of the poisons that society is spewing out, and the ports and customs are the frontiers of that fight," said Richard Gutierrez, Executive Director of Ban Toxics in the Philippines. "Governments can not handle this problem single-handedly. There has to be better coordination and implementation of international and national laws. If not, developing countries like Indonesia will become the dumping grounds for the world’s toxic wastes."
The Secretariat of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has begun an independent examination into the environmental and public health issues associated with the transboundary movement of spent lead-acid batteries across North America. This study will include examination of the recent increase in transboundary shipments of spent lead-acid batteries within North America for the purposes of recovery and recycling of lead for remanufacture. Factors to be examined include the concern that, in addition to global market forces, differing costs of compliance with environmental and health regulations may be affecting decisions on where to locate certain recycling activity within our three countries.
Lead is a persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic substance that can cause developmental harm, especially in children. Even in small doses, exposure to lead dust and vapors—in lead-contaminated air, water, or soil—has been associated with nervous system impairment in fetuses and young children, resulting in learning deficits and lowered IQ.
The Secretariat’s examination will assemble the most recent information on the flow of spent auto and industrial batteries and examine trade- and compliance-related issues in preparing a comprehensive report to the CEC Council—the cabinet-level environmental officials in each of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The independent report will conclude with recommendations concerning steps to improve the environmental management of spent lead-acid batteries and to diminish the pollution and environmental health effects impacting vulnerable populations adjacent to certain recycling operations, particularly in Mexico.
The CEC Secretariat’s study and report is being prepared pursuant to Article 13 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation (NAAEC). This provision allows the Secretariat to prepare an independent report to the CEC Council. In preparing this study and report, the NAAEC Article 13 provides for the Secretariat to draw upon any relevant technical, scientific or other information, including information submitted by the Parties to the NAAEC, the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The results of public consultation among North America’s battery recycling and related industries, communities, NGOs and specialists will be considered in the development of the report and recommendations.
The CEC Secretariat report is expected to be completed in 2012 and a work-plan and schedule of consultations will be published in the near future. Interested persons and organizations are encouraged to contact the Secretariat should they wish to provide any related information and/or to be included in such consultation.
LAHORE: Hazardous E-waste has become one of the biggest health risks of this century in Pakistan, with rising trend of bulk imports of used and obsolete computers and other electronic equipment from the West, taking full advantage of “yet to be enacted E-waste laws” in the country. The people, especially the youth, are buying ‘E-Waste of the West’ as branded computers due to lack of awareness about the grave risks it is posing to the environment, human life and animals.
“No one knows when Pakistan will be able to effectively cope with the problem of hazardous E-waste, perhaps not before the adults and children start suffering from serious health disorders by exposing to lead and other lethal chemicals present in E-waste,” says M Jamal, an environmental expert.
According to environmentalists, the toxic materials found in computer equipment include lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, barium etc, warning that - older the computer, the higher the level of toxic elements.
According to reports, one of the most toxic equipment is Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) present in monitors and monitor-converted TVs, which contain deadly metals such as lead, which damages the nervous and reproductive systems and poisons the blood and kidneys. It also adversely affects plants, animals and microorganisms. Cadmium, found in chips and infrared detectors, accumulates in kidneys and damages them.
Another heavy metal, mercury, which is used in a large number of electronic items, enters the food chain and harms the brain and kidneys.
There is no law in the country to effectively deal with E-waste hazards. The existing Pakistan Environmental Protection Act 1997 does not cover the safe handling and disposal of hazardous E-waste and prevention of its import.
“Proper legislation and its implementation is the need of the hour to control this menace,” says M Jamal.
According to experts, E-waste is a global phenomenon, but the problem in Pakistan is of greater magnitude, as it has become a dumping ground for obsolete electronic products.
Talking to Daily Times, Punjab Environment Protection Agency Director General Maqsood Ahmad Lak has said that there is a dire need for focusing on the management of E-waste, which is a modern era threat to the environment.
Although Pakistan is a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the government has done little to check and regulate toxic imports.
According to a UN report, the world collectively generates 20 to 50 million tonnes of E-waste every year.
Sensing the gravity of the problem at global level, an international conference, Environmentally Sound Management of E-waste, is being held on January 8 to 11, 2012 in Tehran. A delegation from Pakistan has also been invited to participate in the conference.
It is learnt that tens of thousands of used computers, its accessories and other obsolete electronic equipment, which contain large amount of hazardous waste, are being shipped to Pakistan with complete disregard to their lethal effects.
These obsolete electronic products, which are difficult and expensive to dispose of in developed countries because of their hazardous nature, are imported and used as cheap and ‘second-hand machinery’ in Pakistan.
“It is a well known fact the developed countries get rid of their undesirable computers and other equipment considered scrap by sending shipments out to developing countries and Pakistan is a prime example of such behaviour,” says environmental expert Dr Iqbal.
It is observed that a large quantity of computers, its accessories and related gadgets are used in houses and offices, exposing adults and children to toxic elements. “In order to avoid such type of waste and consequent hazards, it is important not to import old and out-dated electronic gadgets, especially computers and cellular devices,” says Dr Iqbal. He says besides a host of heavy metals – which continue to pollute our water bodies, land, soil, and air – the disposal of computers and other E-waste requires scientific supervision and proper channels. This modern era problem has not so far received much attention from non-governmental or environmental bodies in the country. So it is alarming that the workers in the computer recycling industry as well as consumers who buy used equipment due to its low cost are oblivious to the threats to their health.