Industry calls for WEEE to be classed as non-waste


Image: ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

Computer and electronic manufacturers are lobbying to have waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) reclassified as ‘non-waste’ to enable it to be exported to developing countries for repair. 

Under the Basel Ban Amendment – currently implemented in 33 countries – the export of WEEE (classed as a hazardous waste) to developing countries is illegal. 

However, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) – an association that includes electronic manufacturers including Dell, HP, Sony, Samsung, LG and Apple – is set to lobby for an exemption to the ban at the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (COP11) today (3 May).  

The meeting will see delegates hash out details of the ‘Technical Guidelines on the Transboundary Movements of e-Waste and used electrical and electronic equipment, in particular regarding the distinction between waste and non-waste under the Basel Convention’

According to ITI, the electronics industry views ‘legitimate repair, refurbishment and reuse of equipment as critical to reducing the generation of e-waste, conserving material resources, and expanding the ability of all communities to access information and communications technology and needed medical equipment’. 

The council suggests that the ‘Technical Guidelines on Transboundary Movements of Electronic and Electrical Waste (E-waste)’ should be amended to ‘ensure the environmentally sound management of e-waste’ while promoting a ‘common understanding among governments that movements of used equipment for legitimate repair and reuse are not wastes’. 

Writing on ITI's website, the council said: 'ITI is working with all stakeholders -- from governments to NGOs -- to craft careful solutions that will provide necessary assurances to deter bad actors from moving electronic waste, while avoiding restrictions that could prevent legitimate and accepted reuse activities.  We want to avoid requirements that could unintentionally prevent a customer from sending a product back to the manufacturer for repair; a lessee from returning used computers and servers to the lessor; a manufacturer from conducting important diagnostic work on a piece of failed equipment; or, a company from shipping a used part to a foreign market to fix sophisticated medical equipment or a computer server.  

'ITI strongly supports strict controls on the movement of waste electronics, but adopting limits on legitimate shipments for repair and reuse will produce unacceptable environmental, economic, and social impacts'. These, ITI states include increase e-waste generation 'as many used products will not be repaired and reused but will instead be prematurely sent for materials recovery', increased impromper e-waste disposal 'as products may be locked within countries that lack environmentally sound management facilities' and increase raw material extraction and carbon emissions from manufacture of new products 'to replace those that can no longer be maintained or repaired'.

ITI continues: 'ITI is urging those involved in the Geneva talks to continue working toward the development of international guidelines to ensure the environmentally sound management of old electronics products, and many companies are partnering with governments on new take-back initiatives in countries across the globe...We must protect the environment. And part of that mission is ensuring that we find smart new ways to recycle and reuse old tech products.  We are willing and eager to work with governments and stakeholders alike to focus on proper regulation and sustainable solutions to the e-waste challenge.'

Currently, the guidelines are aligned with the Basel Convention so that any equipment that is not functional or not tested is considered waste. 

ITI adds that it supports the ‘environmentally sound and economically efficient management of used electronic and electrical equipment destined for materials recovery and recycling’. 

Claim is ‘disingenuous’ 

The Basel Action Network (BAN) – an organisation focused on ‘confronting the global environmental justice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade and its devastating impacts’ – has said that it will ‘condemn’ the move today, adding that the exemptions would ‘undercut the very reason for the Basel Convention’ and could lead to WEEE being ‘labelled repairable and simply shunted off to Asia or Africa’. 

“This is really a very shocking effort to further widen the floodgates of a tide of toxic techno-trash already inundating ports and dumps in Africa and Asia”, said Jim Puckett, Executive Director of BAN. 

“Industry claims this will foster reuse, which we fully support, yet they fail to adequately explain why reuse can’t be done in accordance with established Basel Convention rules.  

“Truly caring about reuse would mean that manufacturers would make equipment that lasts longer, is upgradable, and does not contain toxic chemicals. It’s all just a bit disingenuous to claim that exporting broken, obsolete toxic equipment to developing countries is best for the environment.” 

BAN adds that even if WEEE is legitimately sent to developing countries for repair, it will ‘invariably create massive amounts of hazardous scrap… resulting in the hazardous waste ending up in developing countries – who have the least ability to manage it’.  

“These exemptions, if accepted, would represent a devastating setback for both the responsible recycling industry and for human health and the environment in developing countries”, Puckett added. 

Read more about COP11.