Technical Guideline Remains Intact After Fierce Debate In Geneva

monitorspngKey staff members from the Basel Action Network returned from the Basel Convention meetings in Geneva, Switzerland yesterday.  Attending a full week of meetings, BAN staff worked on finalizing the ‘Technical Guideline’ for the import and export of e-waste.  The Technical Guideline is meant to clarify when used electronic equipment is considered e-waste, and when it is not.

The Draft Guideline’s basic premise is that electronic equipment that is tested as non-functional or is untested would be considered waste.  However, the ITI (Information Technology Industry Council) and developed country governments including the USA, Canada, European Union and Japan, proposed that the guideline allow a number of major exemptions for equipment claimed to be going for repair to any country, developing or otherwise.  The ITI and aforementioned governments cited existing business practices and maximizing reuse as the reasons for removing repairable electronics from the Basel Convention controls. However, BAN and developing countries stood steadfast against this addendum, reminding delegates that removing repairables from the Basel Convention would open up a floodgate of electronic waste.

BAN and the developing nations agree that:

a) A substantial amount of hazardous waste is generated in repair operations. This includes bad batteries, mercury lamps, CRTs, and circuit boards. If developing countries are forced to accept untested and non-functional electronics, they will have to deal with a disproportionate burden of the world’s hazardous electronic waste. This injustice is precisely what the Basel Convention was designed to prevent.

b) Anyone would be able to label a shipment as “repairable equipment”.  If simply adding this phrase to a shipment of e-waste makes the shipment exempt from the Basel Convention, every waste broker in the world would be able to label their exports as “for repair”. There would be no adequate enforcement mechanism to verify the truth of that claim or to take enforcement actions against false claims, leaving developing nations at a severe disadvantage.

The impact of such a major loophole would be devastating to certified recyclers in developed countries as well.  All certified e-Stewards, and even most certified R2 recyclers, would be undermined completely without an international law that creates a universal disincentive against exporting e-waste to developing nations. Under the rule proposed by ITI and developed nations, businesses would be able to export devices and components ‘for repair’ anywhere, anytime, completely eliminating the need for facilities that recycle materials responsibly. The United States alone would be turning thousands of green jobs into toxic ones, and exporting those jobs overseas.

Developing countries would not accept this massive loophole, and the industrialized powers would not accept a document absent the exemption. Thus, the Guideline was not approved last week in Geneva.  We will continue to work on the Guideline in preparation for the next Conference of the Parties in 2015.

Stay tuned for more updates on how this critical global issue plays out in future months and years. Follow this link for more information.

Photo Courtesy of the Basel Convention COP-11 Meetings