The rules regarding electronic scrap have again been in the news of late. The European Parliament overwhelmingly recommended changes to its current legislation regarding the collection and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) – including trans-boundary movements. Similarly, a key issue at the 10th International Electronics Recycling Congress in Austria in January involved the export of this material to developing countries.
Off The Toxic Scale
Many of us have seen the images and documentaries about places such as Guiyu, China. In the City of Guiyu, about 5500 businesses deal with e-waste from around the world. We see pictures of people heating circuit boards over open fires to recover lead and others using acid to remove bits of gold. The net result of all this activity clustered in a relatively small area is a highly toxic and extremely dangerous environment. Time Magazine, for example, has reported that Guiyu has the highest levels of cancer-causing dioxins in the world.
The Basel Convention
The tendency for hazardous waste to take the path of least resistance was one of the major concerns which lead to the Basel Convention. It came into force under the auspices of the United Nations in 1992. The idea behind it was to find ways to control the trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste and it’s subsequent disposal.
To be sure, this is an extremely complex subject which will continue to generate a great deal of debate. Questions abound, such as:
• What is the responsibility of the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s)?
• What are the responsibilities of governments, industry and individuals in dealing with hazardous materials?
• Can we export standards and recycling technologies to developing countries that would improve environmental, health and safety standards?
• Could we improve reporting mechanisms as well as monitoring of compliance standards?
• As ISRI (The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries) suggests, are we being mindful of not criminalizing legal trade and ensuring a competitive global marketplace?
This Is A Conversation The World needs To Have
We need to stimulate this debate. For starters, a copy of the Basel Convention agreement can be obtained from the United Nations Environment Program’s Basel Convention web site at: http://www.basel.int/