International e-Waste export guideline deemed unready according to BAN
"Repairables Loophole" denounced as threat to ethical circular economy
The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention concluded in early May, without approving in full the Technical Guidelines on the Transboundary Movement of e-Waste. The Guideline, which included an exemption from controls for e-wastes claimed for repair, failed to find the support for its final adoption after several years of negotiation. The Basel Convention seeks to prevent the export and dumping of hazardous wastes, particularly in developing countries.
According to Basel Action Network, based out of Seattle, the guideline, once again was given interim adoption status, signalling more work is needed to address concerns raised again by developing countries that the exception can easily be exploited by exporters simply wishing to get rid of low-value electronic scrap. BAN's mission, according to is to champion global environmental health and justice by ending toxic trade, catalyzing a toxics-free future, and campaigning for everyone's right to a clean environment.
What has been called the "repairables loophole", at the heart of the controversy, is promoted by some electronics manufacturers, the US, European Union, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada. Those in opposition to the exemption decry the fact that it dangerously deregulates toxic e-waste trade controls at a time when their export to unsustainable recycling operations and dumping grounds in Asia and Africa, remains a serious global problem. The exemption would allow traders that claim their exports were for repair, to avoid the trade controls of the Convention which normally call for countries to be notified before receiving such wastes and provides them with the right of refusal.
BAN and other environmental organizations, as well as the African Group, India, and Sri Lanka, among other countries, declared the call for further work as essential to allow for a rational closure of the loophole to thereby ensure an ethical circular economy.
"The electronics industry overstepped and trampled the fundamental principles of the Basel Convention by allowing a backdoor channel for uncontrolled exports of non-functional hazardous electronic equipment," said Jim Puckett, BAN Executive Director. "This remains a very dangerous idea because unscrupulous waste traders would simply declare everything to be repairable to legally dump hazardous e-wastes on developing countries."
BAN has produced an alternative "Responsible e-Waste Guideline" which was presented to the meeting as a compromise for industry. BAN claims their alternative Guideline, provides ease of legitimate shipments for repair but does not betray the obligations and principles of the Convention. They intend to work in the next months to promote their compromise position.
"Of course it is important to promote repair and re-use of used electronic equipment," said Puckett. "But repair should never be used as a new excuse to export our e-waste problem to developing countries without proper controls, full transparency, and the right of refusal by importing countries. Our Responsible Guideline restores these vital principles."