Toxic e-waste dumping exposed

23 September 2011

After some 30 months of investigations, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and EPA Criminal Investigation Division have handed down multiple criminal charges against two executives of Executive Recycling.

The government first became aware of these alleged violations by the Denver, Colorado-based electronics recycling firm following an investigation by the Basel Action Network (BAN).

The investigation became publicised after BAN worked with CBS’s 60 Minutes news magazine programme in an episode titled ‘The Wasteland’. It is the first instance that criminal charges have been brought against an e-waste exporter.

In 2007 and 2008, BAN volunteers photographed 21 sea-going containers at Executive Recycling’s loading docks that they subsequently tracked across the world, with most ending up in China. BAN then alerted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and 60 Minutes, and together the groups documented US businesses posing as responsible electronics recyclers but who instead were simply shipping e-waste to developing countries where it was processed in highly polluting operations.

“This is a major victory for global environmental justice,” said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett. “Even before we have a US law in place to explicitly prohibit this dumping on developing countries, the US government’s criminal justice system has recognised the massive toxic trade we first discovered in 2001 as fraudulent, as smuggling, and as an environmental crime. Now these sham recyclers are warned: their shameful practices can land them in jail.”

Currently, legislation has been proposed in the US House of Representatives and the Senate to prohibit the export of toxic electronic waste to developing countries. Such an export prohibition already exists in Europe. The US has been behind in enacting such rules, and in 2008, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) was highly critical of the EPA and uncontrolled e-waste exports in a strongly worded report. EPA enforcers themselves have lamented that the US lacks clear laws to combat the global e-waste dumping practice.

According to the federal grand jury indictment, Executive Recycling was responsible for at least 300 exports, including shipments of more than 100,000 toxic cathode ray tubes that netted the company $1.8 million. Executive’s CEO, Brandon Richter, together with Tor Olson, Vice President of Operations, were indicted on 16 separate counts including wire and mail fraud, environmental crimes, exportation contrary to law, and destruction, alteration, or falsification of records.

Executive Recycling still operates in the Denver area and has had e-waste recycling contracts with the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Broomfield and the El Paso County and Jefferson County governments. It is registered with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as a ‘large quantity handler of universal waste’.

“Sadly, Executive Recycling is just the tip of the e-waste iceberg,” said Puckett. “They are but one of hundreds of fake recyclers who sell greenness and responsibility but in fact practice global dumping. This is why we must pass federal legislation prohibiting this activity. And this is why all those disposing of electronic waste should use only Certified e-Stewards Recyclers who will not export your old toxic computer or TV to a developing country.”

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