International e-Waste Export Guideline Deemed Unready

The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention concluding last week, without approving in full the Technical Guidelines on the Transboundary Movement of e-Waste.
Young workers burning electronic wastes imported into Ghana for repair and reuse. However_ when repair is not economically viable the wastes are simply dumped and burned in this disenfranchised slum known as Agbogbloshie outside of Accra. This year_ studies revealed that the eggs laid by hens in the slum recorded the highest level of brominated dioxins ever recorded. Copyright BAN.

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. According to The Basel Action Network (BAN) the guideline, once again was given interim adoption status, signaling 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. The Basel Convention seeks to prevent the export and dumping of hazardous wastes, particularly in developing countries.

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, 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.”

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