California Consumers Bilked as Electronics Recycler Abandons Warehouses Full of TV Glass in Arizona

Basel Action Network, well known for discovering the global dumping of electronic waste in Asia, has joined forces with CBS News in California to expose a new type of dumping, this time in Arizona.

BAN found three warehouses in Yuma, Arizona, holding what is believed to be more than 9 million pounds of abandoned toxic picture tubes from old TVs and computer monitors originally collected by the California state Recycling Program.

Dow Management, the alleged recycling company that held the glass in Yuma, has disappeared and the principals are nowhere to be found. Dow was paid more than $581,000 by California Recyclers to take the glass, who were in turn paid $3.6 million from a California legislated recycling fund.

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BAN Applauds LG Electronics for Responsible E-waste Recycling

Global electronics and appliance innovator LG Electronics has received high praise from the toxic trade watchdog group Basel Action Network for ensuring that none of LG’s e-waste is exported to developing countries.

BAN applauded LG Electronics USA for confirming that all of its customer take-back programs and all of its own office equipment is recycled responsibly through certified e-Stewards® recyclers. LG is even in the process of certifying its own Service Center under the e-Stewards program.

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Following Watchdog Efforts, E-waste Recycling Company Executives to be Jailed for Exporting Toxic E-waste

In the wake of significant prison sentences of 14 and 30 months being handed down by U.S. District Court Judge William J. Martinez against the executives Tor Olson and Brandon Richter of Denver, Colorado's Executive, the toxic trade watchdog group, Basel Action Network, thanked the US Environmental Protection Agency and Homeland Security for their diligent prosecution. BAN warned consumers that the crime of e-waste exportation remains all too common. 

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

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

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European Shipowners dumped 365 Toxic Ships on South Asian Beaches Last Year

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.

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Electronics Recycler Convicted for Illegal Exports to Developing Countries

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.

U.S. Government Ends the Sinking of Old Ships as Artificial Reefs

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.

BAN Denies Defamation Allegations -- Launches Countersuit Against Intercon Solutions

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 ( 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 ( 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.

Mexico Defies United Nations Convention

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.

Navy’s ‘Great Green Fleet’ Sets Out To Pollute The Seas

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.

e-Stewards® Certification Will Now Include R2 Practices

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."

Read R2 Integration Questions and Answers

San Francisco Joins Global Effort to Tackle Electronic Waste

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

113 Containers of Toxic Waste Arrives at Indonesian Port

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."

NGO Releases 2011 List Of Top EU Companies Sending Toxic Ships To South Asia

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform, a coalition of human rights, labour rights and environmental organisations working on the shipbreaking issue, has released its third yearly list of European companies that have sent end-of-life ships to the infamous scrap beaches of South Asia. The European Waste Shipment Regulation – which incorporates international law such as the 1989 Basel Convention on the control of transboundary movements of hazardous wastes – prohibits European Union Member States from exporting hazardous wastes, including those present in the structure of ships to developing countries. Still, the vast majority of European shipping companies continue to avoid the costs of proper disposal by selling their ships to South Asian breaking yards known for the lack of enforcement of environmental and labour laws, exposing some of the poorest communities to extremely dangerous working conditions and severe pollution. The top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2011 are[1]:

  1. Greece(100 ships)
  2. Norway(24 ships)
  3. UK(13 ships)
  4. TheNetherlands(12  ships)
  5. Germany(11 ships)
  6. Italy(9 ships)
  7. Cyprus,Switzerland(5 ships each )
  8. Bulgaria,Denmark,Romania(4 ships each)
  9. Latvia,Lithuania,Poland,Spain,Sweden(3 ships each)
  10. Belgium,Finland,Ireland,Slovenia(1 ship each)

Once more, the listing of European dumpers also highlights the problem of “flags of convenience” (FOC). Unscrupulous ship-owners have long used FOCs to evade tax rules, licence regulations, safety standards and social requirements for the treatment of crew. Backed by shell companies, joint-ventures and hidden owners, FOCs are also considerable constraints to combating illegal toxic waste dumping as they make it extremely difficult to locate and penalise the real owners of vessels. In 2011, the top five flags used by European companies were so-called “flags of convenience” as listed by the International Transport Workers Federation, and accounted for 64% of the total (almost two thirds) of flags. These are:

  1. Panama(55 times)
  2. Liberia(33 times)
  3. Bahamas, St Kitts-Nevis (12 times each)
  4. Comoros(11 times)
  5. Marshall Islands, St Vincent & Grenadines (7 times each)

Pollution and deaths caused by obsolete European ships

Each year, approximately 800 ocean ships reach the end of their service life and are broken down to recover steel.  Yet only a fraction is handled in a safe, sustainable manner.  About 80% of all end-of-life ships are simply run ashore on tidal beaches in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India  and Pakistan, where unscrupulous shipbreaking companies exploit minimal enforcement of environmental and safety rules to maximize profits.

On the beaches ofSouth Asia, poor and unskilled migrant workers are deployed by the thousands to break down the ships manually, which are often full of toxics such as asbestos, lead, PCBs and heavy metals.  Little care is given to worker safety or protection of the environment.  The toxics sicken the workers and ravage coastal ecosystems.  The muddy sand and shifting grounds of tidal beaches cannot support heavy lifting equipment or safety gear, therefore accidents maim or kill hundreds of workers each year.

The statistics are alarming. The European Commission estimates that 40,000 to 1.3 million tonnes toxics (including 3,000 tonnes of asbestos) on board end-of-life vessels are exported each year to South Asia from the EU alone[2]. In Bangladesh, children under 15 years of age count for 20% of the workforce[3].  There and elsewhere, the total death toll runs into the thousands[4]. Also, miles of protected mangrove trees, essential to ecosystem health and protection from monsoons, are being cut to make way for ships.  This and the accompanying poisons from shipbreaking have killed or devastated dozens of aquatic species, destroying also the livelihoods of surrounding fishing communities.

The European Commission needs to take action

In March 2012, the European Commission is expected to release proposals for better enforcement of laws related to shipbreaking. Since the Commission first announced in 2006 that it would be working on this issue, publishing also a “Strategy for better ship dismantling” in 2008, no improvement has been made to the current state of play.

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform and its coalition members, including organisations based in the largest shipbreaking countries (India, Bangladesh and Pakistan), will continue to actively advocate for a European policy that gives promise of effectively reversing the current trend where end-of-life ships constitute one of the largest streams of toxic waste dumped by European companies in developing countries. More than 100 non-governmental organisations around the world; the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics; and the European Parliament have voiced their support to the Platform’s human rights and environmental objectives to end the dangerous and polluting practice of breaking ships on tidal beaches.

Forceful and sustained action at the European level is especially urgent because the global phase-out of single hulled oil tankers and the current backlog of old vessels still in operation mean that the number of retired ships that are sent for breaking is reaching an all-time high. The NGO Shipbreaking Platform’s 2011 list shows more than 200 European ships were sent for breaking on the beaches of South Asia last year.

[1] Six ships were sent by non-EU based companies that used European flags (twice theCyprus flag and twice the Greek flag; once the British flag and once the Maltese flag).

[2] European Commission: Impact Assessment for an EU Strategy for Better Ship Dismantling, SEC(2008)2846

[3] FIDH/YPSA: Childbreaking Yards – Child Labour in the Ship Recycling Industry in Bangladesh, 2008

[4] FIDH/Greenpeace: The Human Cost of Breaking Ships, 2005

Navy Ship Sinking Pollutes Sea with Toxic PCB’s

Today, conservation groups filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ongoing failure to adequately regulate a Federal ship sinking program that pollutes the sea with toxic chemicals. Earthjustice, on behalf of the Basel Action Network and Sierra Club, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Northern California. The U.S. Navy's ship sinking exercise program, called SINKEX, uses decommissioned military ships for live-fire target practice as the Navy's preferred method of ship disposal, sinking a reported 109 ships at sea over the past decade alone. This method of ship disposal differs from the U.S. Maritime Administration's as well as the private shipping industry's preferred method of ship recycling.

The suit claims EPA fails to adequately regulate the ocean dumping of toxic PCBs, (polychlorinated biphenyls), a group of chemicals that are highly toxic and dangerous to human health. PCBs are contained in the obsolete ships used by the U.S. Navy for ship sinking exercises.

New data from a study in Florida supports the conclusion that PCBs, dumped during ship sinking exercises, are leaching from the sunken vessels and are entering the marine food chain. According to the study, this leads to PCB concentrations in fish that make them unsafe for human consumption.

In July 2011, the Basel Action Network and the Sierra Club petitioned EPA to regulate ship dumping more stringently. EPA failed to respond to the petition by the statutory deadline.

"The ocean dumping of our national fleet squanders natural resources that could otherwise be recycled, eliminates recycling job opportunities that could boost local economies, and poses unreasonable risk to the marine environment and to the people who derive their livelihood or recreation from it," said Colby Self of the Basel Action Network. "The EPA can no longer turn a blind eye to this arcane practice; we have given them full notice."

"Protection of our Nation includes protection of our ocean environment and all the species, including humans, who depend on the health of the ocean," said Dave Raney of  the Sierra Club. "By strictly adhering to the law, we need not trade one for the other in the SINKEX exercises."

The lawsuit claims that EPA must initiate rules to regulate the marine disposal of PCBs during ship sinking exercises to protect human health and the environment against an unreasonable risk of injury.

BAN and Sierra Club are advocates for responsible ship recycling in the U.S. that not only serves to protect the environment and human health from toxic PCBs, but also creates recycling jobs and stimulates the local economy.

"EPA is legally required to keep dangerous chemicals like PCBs out of our oceans," said Amanda Goodin, an attorney with Earthjustice representing BAN and Sierra Club. "It's time for EPA to make the Navy clean up its act."