Tag Archives: Basel Convention

Toxic Streams of E-Waste: 100 million tonnes by 2020

keyboards

Exports of electronic waste or e-waste are banned in Europe, but remain legal in America. The United States is the only developed country that has refused to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an international treaty controlling the export of hazardous waste from wealthy countries to poorer ones. America has also refused, along with Canada and Japan, to accept the Basel Convention’s 1995 amendment that imposes an outright ban on such trade.

There have been repeated attempts in Congress to pass legislation that would make it illegal to send toxic waste to other countries. The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2013 failed to gain a consensus. A similar act, introduced in March 2014, remains stuck in the Senate.

Not that the Europeans behave all that ethically. Inspections of 18 European seaports in 2005 found nearly half the e-waste destined for export was actually illegal. Shippers use various tricks to circumvent the Basel ban. For instance, waste labelled as goods for refurbishing or reuse can pass muster, even if it gets incinerated or dumped in landfills on arrival.

Chinese authorities tried, unsuccessfully, to put a stop to such false labeling back in 2000, by banning all imports of e-waste, whatever their intended use. Today, Guiyu, a city in Guangdong province, is the e-waste capital of the world. There, glass-to-glass recycling of computer monitors and television sets costs a tenth of what it does in America. Cathode-ray tubes, with their high concentrations of lead and chemically hazardous phosphors, are the most difficult of all e-waste to process. With an abundance of recycled glass from CRTs, China has become a leading exporter of bottles and jars.

The e-waste industry in Guiyu is said to employ 150,000 people, including large numbers of children, disassembling old computers, phones and other devices by hand to recover whatever metals and parts that can be resold. Circuit boards are soaked in acid to dissolve out the lead, cadmium and other metals. Plastic cases are ground into pellets, and copper wiring is stripped of its plastic coating. Anything not salvageable is burned.

The air pollution and contamination of the local water supply in Guiyu are said to be horrendous. A medical researcher from nearby Shantou University found concentrations of lead in the blood of local children to be on average 49% over the maximum safe level. The highest concentrations were in children living in homes with workshops for recycling circuit boards on the premises.

India is fast becoming another big dumping ground for Western e-waste. Greenpeace reckons there are 25,000 workers employed in recycling computers, phones and other hardware in Delhi alone, where up to 20,000 tonnes of e-waste are processed a year. The preferred method for recycling circuit boards is to toss them into an open fire—to melt the plastics and burn away everything but the gold and copper. Similar recycling dumps have been found in Mumbai, Bangalore and several other cities.

With the global mountain of e-waste growing bigger by 8% a year, the 20m-50m tonnes the EPA reckoned was produced globally in 2009 could easily reach 100m tonnes by 2020.

Excerpts from Where Gadgets Go to Die, Economist, Sept. 6, 2014, at 9

For responsible recycling options see

http://www.e-stewards.org/find-a-recycler/certified-recyclers/

 

How to Break Toxic Ships: send them to another country

MV "HANSA BRANDENBURG.  Image from Black Sea News

WWF-Pakistan has warned Pakistan against the import of a European ship, which is suspected to have burnt containers and cargo that may contain a substantial amount of hazardous materials such as heavy metals or PCBs.  Moreover, the vessel is suspected to carry dangerous substances in fire fighting water as well as a significant amount of fuels and oil. This container ship caught fire in July (2013) and was later towed to Port-Louis in Mauritius. (MV “HANSA BRANDENBURG”,).MV Hansa Brandenburg is a 2002-built Liberian-flagged container ship operated by the German shipping company Leonhardt & Blumberg.

WWF-Pakistan considers that this ship if imported to Pakistan may cause severe marine pollution in the Gadani area, which is already stressed because of a number of economic and industrial activities. Unplanned construction such as Fish harbour has already had serious environmental impact in the area, which is also designated as energy corridor and construction of power plants may have impact on the marine environment of the area unless proper mitigative measures are taken. According to WWF-Pakistan Technical Adviser (Marine Fisheries) Muhammad Moazzam Khan, the area of the Gadani is a part of Sonmiani, which is considered to have a rich marine biodiversity especially around Churna and Kaio islands. Dumping of toxic waste might seriously harm the fragile ecosystem of the area.

Agencies asked not to import vessel loaded with toxic chemicals, Daily Times (Pakistan) October 4, 2013

See also the Shipbreaking Business

The Shipbreaking Business: how European states dump hazardous waste in South Asia

Shipbreaking Bangladesh. Image from wikipedia

Hundreds of European vessels are scrapped under hazardous conditions in South Asia every year. European parliamentarians have approved a new regulation to tackle the problem – but critics say it will have very limited impact…“With this, we will have a safer disposal of ships. About 90 percent of the European vessels are scrapped illegally and the Basel Convention has failed to do something about this,” said Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, who negotiated the agreement with the Council and guided the legislation through the European Parliament. “Last year one European ship was sent to a substandard beaching yard in South Asia every day.”

European Union-registered ships will now have to be recycled at EU-approved facilities that meet specific safety and environmental requirements and are certified and regularly inspected. The European Commission would be obliged to act if NGOs report irregularities.  Both EU ships and non-EU ships would also have to carry an inventory of hazardous materials when calling at ports in the EU. The regulation is likely to enter into force in the beginning of 2014.

Patrizia Heidegger from Shipbreaking Platform, a global coalition of organisations working for safe and sustainable ship recycling, is not pleased with the outcome…She says that the regulation will not have a large impact since ship owners can easily flag out and circumvent the regulation if they don’t want to comply. The coalition wants the regulation to apply to all ships calling at European ports, instead of only the EU-flagged vessels.

Schlyter pushed for an EU fund to subsidise safe recycling of the ships. The fund would have been financed by fees on ships docked in EU ports, but the parliament rejected this part of the proposal.  “Without the ship recycling fund the new regulation won’t be effective. A ship recycling fund would put obligations on the ship owners beyond the flag,” Heidegger said.  “The fund was supported by all the political groups, but then the parliament voted it down after strong lobbying from ship owners and EU ports. The ports claimed that the arrangement would result in over 100 percent increase in fees, which is not true,” Schlyter told IPS.  Schlyter says that with a fund in place it would not pay to flag out. He says that the commission might propose creation of a fund later if the new regulation proves insufficient….

European ship owners dumped 365 toxic ships on South Asian beaches last year, according to the Shipbreaking Platform.  Of the top 10 European “global dumpers” in 2012, Greek ship owners were number one, dumping 167 ships on Asian beaches. German ship owners represented the second largest group of toxic ship dumpers with 48 ships, followed by ship owners from the UK with 30 ships, and Norway with 23 ships scrapped on beaches in South Asia.  According to the coalition most of the end-of-life ships sent by European ship owners did not fly an EU flag but flags from Panama, Liberia, the Bahamas or St Kitts-and-Nevis.  Bangladesh tops the list of countries having the greatest number of ships scrapped every year, with India and Pakistan trailing far behind. Unskilled and unprotected workers manually handle poisonous chemicals and are also exposed to the risk of explosion while dismantling old vessels.

Excerpts,By  Ida Karlsson, New EU Rules ‘Fail’ Against Shipbreaking Dangers, IPS, July 17, 2013

See also Greens against the Workers

The Nightmare of Electronic Waste

The lack of adequate management of electronic waste in Guatemala is posing a serious threat to the environment and health, as demand for electronic devices has soared to the point that there are more cell phones than people.  Computers, mobile phones, refrigerators, microwave ovens and a long list of other devices and appliances end up in garbage dumps and even rivers, and the public is unaware of the danger posed by toxic substances in the products, experts warn.   Chrome, mercury, lead, selenium and arsenic are some of the most toxic substances in e-waste, which can cause serious damages to health, Mayron España, director of E-Waste de Guatemala, an NGO that collects such products for recycling, told IPS….”And all of these metals end up in the water sooner or later,” because they seep into groundwater or because e-waste is dumped into surface water bodies like rivers, said España, whose organisation collects e-waste to be recycled abroad.

According to Guatemala’s telecoms regulator, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones, the number of mobile phones in use in 2011 reached 20.7 million in this country of 14 million people – up from just 3.1 million in 2004.  And a similar increase has been seen in the case of computers, digital cameras and TV sets, and other products.  But these devices are highly polluting. A single nickel cadmium battery cell phone can pollute 50,000 litres of water, according to environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

A study on e-waste by the Guatemalan Centre for Cleaner Production, “Diagnóstico sobre la generación de desechos electrónicos en Guatemala”, concluded that by 2015, at least 13,000 tons of cell phones and 18,600 tons of computers and accessories will have been thrown out in this Central American country.  The report proposes the “three R’s”- reduce, reuse, recycle – to curb the negative impact of e-waste on the environment.  The study, carried out by two engineers, Sonia Solís and Andrés Chicol, calls for the formulation of e-waste management plans as part of a national strategy that should include activities aimed at raising public awareness about the problem.

Adriana Grimaldi, a chemistry professor at the private Mariano Gálvez University, stressed the urgent need to address the question of e-waste because of the serious risks posed to the environment and human health.  Grimaldi said PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), whose production is banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, are among the “most powerful and carcinogenic” substances used in electrical devices like transformers and capacitors….Julio Urías, an adviser to the Red Giresol – the Guatemalan network of environmental promoters for prevention and integrated management of solid waste – says there is much to be done in the area of waste management in Guatemala, although he also mentioned important efforts by social organisations and private companies.  He said that an essential step is to draft and enforce “viable legislation.” He also called for “education and information for the population about consumption habits.”

The government’s National Commission on Solid Waste Management estimates that just five percent of the 7,000 tons of solid waste produced daily in this country is recycled.

However, there are positive experiences with recycling, which show that it can generate opportunities for people who have none.  That is the case of Edulibre, a non-profit that donates old computers to public schools in poor areas.  “Companies donate their old computers to us,” Javier Hernández, a computer technician who works with Edulibre, told IPS. “We check them and install our own operating system that we have adapted for Guatemala, from free software.”  Since 2007, the organisation has also set up five computer labs in the capital and other parts of the country, which serve more than 1,000 children, while protecting the environment by reusing old equipment.

Excerpts, Danilo Valladares, More Cell-Phones than People, and No E-Waste Treatment in Guatemala, IPS, Apr. 2, 2012

Banning Hazardous Waste Trade

Illegal E-Waste Trade

Exporting E-Waste

Illegal Waste Exports: UK and the Netherlands Ship Toxic Waste to Indonesia

Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo has strongly criticized the British and Dutch governments for allowing hazardous and toxic waste to be shipped to Indonesia.  Speaking to reporters after inspecting 113 containers of hazardous and toxic waste (B3) confiscated by customs officials at the Koja port in North Jakarta on Saturday, Agus said that the British and Dutch governments had violated the Basel Convention by failing to report such shipments to Indonesia.“If those countries complied with the Basel Convention, they should have reported the shipments to Indonesia because they contained hazardous and toxic waste,” Agus said.  Customs Director General Agung Kuswandono said that 89 containers came from England, while the rest came from the Netherlands. They were allegedly imported by PT HHS…Agung said that PT HHS acted as an importer which wanted to recycle the steel.  Environmental Minister Balthasar Kambuata said that metal scraps were not banned from entering  Indonesia.  “However, they must be safe and clean. These look like garbage. Some of them are wet, some are dry and some even drips smelly liquids. These clearly violate the law,” Balthasar said.

Excerpt, Hans David Tampubolon, UK, Netherlands criticized over toxic waste shipments to RI, Jan. 29, 2012

Banning Hazardous Waste Trade: an invitation to illegal marketers

More than 170 countries have agreed to accelerate adoption of a global ban on the export of hazardous wastes (pdf), including old electronics, to developing countries.  The environmental group Basel Action Network called Friday’s deal, which was brokered by Switzerland and Indonesia, a major breakthrough.  “I’m ecstatic,” said its executive director, Jim Puckett. “I’ve been working on this since 1989 and it really does look like the shackles are lifted and we’ll see this thing happen in my lifetime.”

The deal seeks to ensure that developing countries no longer become dumping groups for toxic waste including industrial chemicals, discarded computers and mobile phones and obsolete ships laden with asbestos, he said.Delegates at the UN environmental conference in Cartagena agreed the ban should take effect as soon as 17 more countries ratify an amendment to the so-called 1989 Basel Convention.  “This agreement was stalled for the past 15 years,” Colombia’s environment minister, Frank Pearl, said in praising the vote. Katharina Kummer, the convention’s executive secretary, estimated it would take five years to reach the required 68 ratifying nations. Puckett said he thought it would be closer to two years….The United States, the world’s top exporter of electronic waste, is among nations that have not ratified the original convention.  “Unless the US joins the treaty they are just going to be a renegade,” Puckett said, adding that the US had no rules for exporting electronic waste, which it sends mostly to China but also to Africa and Latin America.  The global ban has been strongly backed by African countries, China and the European Union, which already prohibits toxic exports and Puckett said Colombia played a strong role in Friday’s breakthrough.  Opponents have been led by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, and recently joined by India, said Puckett….The issue took centre stage in 2006 when hundreds of tonnes of waste were dumped around the Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan, killing at least 10 people and sickening tens of thousands.  The waste came from a tanker chartered by the Dutch commodities trading company Trafigura Beheer BV, which had contracted with a local company to dispose of the waste.  Puckett said shipping companies had opposed inclusion in the ban, wanting to keep sending old ships to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to scrap them.  “Just about four days ago another six people died on the beaches of Bangladesh,” he said.  He told AP there were no reliable estimates on how many tonnes of toxic waste were exported annually because developed nations did not accurately report them.

Global hazardous waste ban advances, Sydney Morning Herald, Oct. 23, 2011

Transnational Movements in Hazardous and Nuclear Waste

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