By Darren Smith, Weekend contributor
An environmental advocacy group alleges that a Seattle recycling company disposed of electronics in overseas nations without following contractually mandated recycling practices. Seattle based “Total Reclaim” now faces investigation by the Washington State Department of Ecology and the potential loss of state contracts.
Environment NGO “Basel Action Network” initiated a two-year investigation of recycling methods by using, among others things, GPS transponders in two hundred devices hidden in recycled items dropped off at recycling locations throughout the United States. BAN then tracked the devices to record their migration and if the material did in-fact arrive at large recycling locations.
Reportedly thirty percent of electronic recyclables instead arrived in foreign nations such as Kenya, Hong Kong and Mexico; locations having questionable environmental practices.
A transponder placed in an recyclable electronic device was dropped off at a Portland, Oregon site maintained by Total Reclaim. The device found its way to a large Hong Kong “Junkyard” according to Basal Action Network Jim Puckett.
China and other nations are among those watched by both labor rights and environmental organizations for lax regulations and hazardous practices for electronic recycling. The recycling of electronics poses an elevated level of environmental concern due to hazardous chemicals used and due to costs it can lead some companies to be reluctant to properly protect workers from occupational disease.
For additional information on the hazards involving rare-earths, a major component of some electronics, see a previous article HERE. Take special note of the BBC link at the bottom of the article.
For its part Total Reclaim released a statement apologizing for their error:
On May 5, Total Reclaim’s e-Stewards Certification was revoked as a result of the discovery of two broken LCD monitors exported from Total Reclaim to a Hong Kong recycling facility. In sending these materials to a developing country, we did not live up to our commitment to recycle these devices domestically in accordance with the e-Stewards requirements. Acknowledging this failure we pledge to do everything we can to re-earn the trust of our customers and the industry. These efforts are taking a number of forms:
- We ended exports of monitors for recycling at the end of last year;
- We have commenced working with an leading independent third party auditor to conduct a new, thorough inspection of all of our facilities to ensure full compliance with the E-cycle Washington and E-cycle Oregon programs;
- We have initiated the process of getting our ISO 14001 registration re-instated.
The progress of our third party audits and ISO registration, as well as other program and technology developments designed to ensure that all e-waste is recycled responsibly, will be made publicly available on our website.
May 3, 2016 Total Reclaim Public Statement Under the immense pressures of a very difficult market for our services, we lost sight of our values and make business decisions that were contrary to the certifications and standards we had agreed to meet. These ethical lapses do not reflect the historical nature of us as people or as a company. Nor are they indicative of who we will be going forward. We are very sorry that we have let down our industry, our customers, our employees and all those who have believed in us. We pledge to re-earn your trust.
Total Reclaim acknowledges the following:
- We exported flat screen devices two undocumented recycling facilities in Hong Kong;
- We withheld information about these exports from our customers and certifying body;
- When questioned about the nature of these exports by the staff of e-stewards, we were not forthcoming with information, potentially endangering the credibility in viability of the e-Stewards program.
Total Reclaim and its founders have earned industry reputations as committed and skilled environmental protectionists and professional operators through the introduction of numerous recycling programs for hard-to-handle materials in the Pacific Northwest.
Economic challenges never excuse wrong behavior. The Reality, though, is that squeeze by plummeting commodity prices; increasing labor costs; long-term, fixed-price contracts; and, especially, a dramatically increasing volume of flat-screen devices, we made a short-term business decision to export materials to undocumented processing facilities in Hong Kong. In doing so, we violated the aspirational goals of the e-Stewards certification. We potentially embarrassed our customers, who were in no way complicit in our actions. In addition, we were not mindful of the environmental and human harm that could have been caused in Hong Kong. For all of this, we are very sorry.
Prior to learning of the investigation by BAN, Total Reclaim had begun an intensive project to develop technology to enable us to recycle flat screen devices without proposing an unreasonable risk to our employees or the environment. This project has proved successful and we are confident that it has the potential to revolutionize our industry. As part of our commitment to rectifying our past mistakes, we pledge to make this technology available to our industry competitors to assist them in handling these difficult materials.
We take no issue with the factual findings of the e-Stewards Evidentiary Report. Rather we apologize for failing to live up to our commitments and pledge to rebuild our status as an industry leader and rebuild the trust of the e-Stewards organization, our customers, and the public.
Despite the company’s minimization of the scope of the scandal, that is in its emphasis that only two devices were found to be disposed of contrary to their recycling contract, it seems facially inaccurate to state that somehow these two devices were the only ones found in China of all the devices the company recycles. Nevertheless the effect was swift and the fallout profound.
Not only is the Washington Department of Ecology reviewing the company for potential violations of state and federal law, the City of Seattle is reviewing its contract with Total Reclaim and the University of Washington said it will for the time being drop the company from its electronic recycling vendors.
By Darren Smith
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