The dark side of electronic waste recycling

The dark side of electronic waste recycling


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Jim Puckett got the news of his “little lie detectors.” They were small devices, not much bigger than a deck of cards. As a GPS Tracker, you also did not see much, like actual lie detectors. For years, as the head of the Basel Action Network, Puckett and his team threw it in the trash.

electronics can be dangerous if disposed of improperly, and the Basel Action Network, or BAN, explores the underground world of the e-waste trade. The non-Profit group embeds secretly Tracker in discarded devices, then the hands, to see you recyclers, where they land, expose bad practices in the process. After the fall of bugged LCD can monitors in Oregon, she followed along, as the Tracker follows a detour through the summer of 2015, and until well into the autumn.

Puckett, whose hip glasses and easy Way obscure fights entrepreneurial spirit, watched with his team as the Tracker coordinate crawled over a map, and gave the signal. He was as stunned by what they reported. You went through Portland, bounced to Seattle, and sailed across the Pacific ocean. After months and months, which landed in Hong Kong.

Puckett knew that Hong Kong was a destination for the e-waste shipments — a place where the workers toil could in makeshift reclamation yards, breaking apart electronics, without regard to the serious consequences for health. Ideally, the electronics are professionally dismantled, carefully discarded with security in mind. Instead, unskilled workers in their cities to develop cancer, and damages your nervous system poison. Worldwide, the human and environmental toll of the work is impossible to calculate.

The trip was not the only thing that the Tracker discovers. The team of the BAN was also shocked, where the monitors travelled inside the United States. It seemed to happen to the assets who knew a Seattle recycler Puckett. Strange, you had to make your way to Seattle’s Harbor Island, a 420-hectare artificial island in the mouth of the city’s Duwamish River.

zoomed in on The team in BAN, where the Tracker had stopped on the island. On Google Street View, if you checked, in exactly the right place, she could call the words on trucks sitting on the island: sum Back. , Puckett knew the company well.

“It was very disappointing,” he tells me. Total Reclaim was not only an example of a company seemingly doing everything right. It was from friends. “Probably one of the most disturbing things I’ve experienced in this business, a lawyer, was a real ally,” he says, “and find that you were betrayed.”

In the year 2015, would find it hard to have been two people, which continued in the recycling industry with a lot better than Craig Lorch and Jeff Zirkle.

Lorch was an active part of the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, where he lived, the participation of the local community Council, and tutoring grade school students in the area. Fellow co-chair, said years later that he was “a pillar of our community.” He co-founded a non-Profit in the area for the bikes to give to young people who could not afford them.

Zirkle, had to Reclaim cabinets a taste for working with numbers, work recycling found-cooling, and after a meeting Lorch, the two started a recycling business called Total, 1991. At first, the Total treated demand, refrigerators, and other household appliances, but over time found that they had established a niche, to help governments and companies take care of e-waste that was difficult to dispose of responsibly.

The two quickly made a name for themselves in the industry, although Lorch, by most accounts, was the face of the company. “I knew Craig, he was one of the first,” says Scott Cassel, founder of the Product Stewardship Institute, which works on e-waste problems.

“I knew one of them pretty good. It Craig Lorch,” says Jason Linnell, executive director of the National Center for electronics Recycling. “He was active in many of the discussions in Oregon and Washington, and nationally.”

total Reclaim, the business boomed. By 2000, the company had expanded into the electronics, wider, and, finally, the largest electronics recycler in the North-Western United States. Between 2010 and 2015, according to the company, with 170 employees recycled an average of 40 million pounds of electronics and lights for a year. Lorch and Zirkle from millions of dollars, as the company expanded over the years.

The recycling process was complex. Customer discontinued hauls in the electronics — keyboards, mice, laptops, copy machines, what they had with string and Total Reclaim workers screened for re-use, cleaning hard drives, and move the products to new buyers.

For other products, it was the end of the road. Total employees demand decomposed, these elements. If you have the components, shred tear dealing with a computer, workers in the hard drive, take the lithium-ion batteries and disconnect the rest of the materials for the buyers. Steel, aluminum, and precious metals could go to metal refineries. Assembly line workers took the larger pieces, the sorting of the plastics, and everything ended up else on line.

Puckett remembers that you challenge yourself with a Total of Back in the 2000s, as the BAN of electronic scrap studied exports and interviewed recyclers on their practices. “A lot of doors face, and the only one that would speak, it was Craig Lorch require a Total hit Back and got in our researcher’s,” he says. BAN kept working on e-waste issues, a Total of Reclaim, the non-profit shining example. The company signed a responsible e-waste recycling, Deposit, developed by BAN, and later signed, a certification program that included periodic inspections, said they would always recycle responsibly.

In exchange, Puckett says BAN on driving the customer in the direction of the Lorch and the company. “We have him, says richer by far by sending a lot of business to him,” Puckett. “He was able to expand in Oregon and Alaska, and really a North-West-Imperium of the leading recyclers. And he announced that he do never export always the right thing to do.”

total Reclaim, grew to a fixed size in the municipality, and in the process, Puckett and Lorch grew up in the vicinity. Puckett says he took Lorch is to ask advice to, brought a Total of Reclaim, in-house meetings, and if a reporter is interested in e-waste dropped, he would provide you with Total Reclaim, as an example of how e-waste recycling the right way.

At one point, Lorch appeared in a BAN-produced documentation, which explains the dangerous economy of the export business. “It’s all about the money,” he says in the documentary. “They are loaded on the front, you sell the material on the back of the coast. You do no work in between, they will arrange you simply do not have the material loaded into a container and shipped.”

BAN, has, in the meantime. the tracker program, scoring some big successes in the process, and in 2015, they began work on a further report, this time handing over LCD monitors in Oregon A BAN would provide small businesses with the screens for the recycling, with plans to see where you traveled to in the end. It didn’t take long to waste move those recyclers to total Reclaim, which worked with the smaller companies. But instead of Recycling in the domestic, the Tracker showed the waste flow in Hong Kong.

“We were shocked,” Puckett says. “We were like, ‘Whoa. These things don’t lie. What is going on demand, with a Total of Back, our pride and joy of the good?'”

Puckett called the Lorch for a meeting, suggesting a coffee shop in Seattle, where you met before. He did not say what the meeting was about. There, Puckett and another BAN on employee Lorch confronted with evidence from the Tracker.

“Amazingly, we don’t have a show left a tracker on your site,” Puckett says he told Lorch, “but the data that the people, you as a downstream, their pursuers went off, shortly after she came to you.”

How to Puckett, told Lorch “feigned outrage.” He and Zirkle, said in a later meeting, that it must have been a mistake. Total Reclaim, do not send e-waste to Hong Kong. According to Puckett, the two hit the tracker had to find his way in something else — it would have dislodged and fallen in some of the plastic on the way overseas. Puckett says he asked for a way to return to the claim, and received some delivery papers. What was he to say Lorch, that he already had a trip planned to Hong Kong to discover the evidence for yourself.


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The United States and throw an amazing number of devices each year, millions of tons of televisions, cell phones, computers, household appliances. Americans rarely see, the leave a legacy.

electronics have a variety of toxic materials inside of them, and researchers have carefully catalogued the damage they can cause if they are broken. LCD monitors are watching with mercury, which, when bruised, a toxin that can damage the person, the organs and the nervous system. Cathode-ray tubes of lead that can poison an ecosystem of micro-organisms. Cadmium in computer batteries, circuit boards, has been associated with skeletal malformations in animals.

For the waste workers, scrap-products for can we turned to other Nations, funneling discarded electronics in South East Asia and Africa, where metals. The workers, the material in the open air could burn, or treat it in a bath of acid, the sift through the remains for small amounts of potentially valuable metals such as gold.

The results can be devastating. A 2007 study found that children in Guiyu, China, a hotspot for e-waste dump-at the time, radically increased concentrations of lead in their blood. In the same municipality, according to a 2008 study, the dust contained heavy metals in the amount of hundreds of times higher than in the vicinity of sites without e-waste dumping. In Agbogbloshie, Ghana, is a BAN report found that a free-range egg contained toxins at a rate more than 200 times above European food safety standards.

have Several countries come together to prevent the disposal of e-waste to other countries. In 1989, a un Treaty known as the Basel Convention was established to regulate the export of hazardous material. The Convention, the BAN is named, requires a country to consent before you are sent to waste and to dispose of junked electronics in an environmentally friendly way.

environmental activists are urged to send an amendment to the Convention, the ban on some of the richest countries in the world, the your electronics in developing countries. The amendment is not yet effective, but some countries have made significant steps on their own to better the e-waste trade curb,. The United States is not one of them.

America’s waste is an extreme manufacturer of e -, but has done nothing about regulating them. Despite the signing of the Convention, the country has not ratified, and almost all of the e-waste legally overseas shipped more than 30 years after the first countries of compliance with the Basel Convention agreed to. America says, “this distinction all the time in the Ruck in the room,” Scott Cassel. Europe has much stricter rules about how the manufacturers, the disposal of the electronics that they produce. States taken, a part of the load, and about half passed some form of law that the electronics dumping in the country.

Jim Puckett has spent years pushing for stricter regulations on e-waste, including while working for Greenpeace International. In 1997, he founded the non-profit Basel Action Network.


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BAN went to China in 2001 and later published a report on the city of Guiyu. The non-profit image material of children recorded in addition to the incineration of waste and the mountains of discarded electronics components. The workers would have the parts on fire, melting away you, the worthless material, until they could find bits of precious metals — buried traces of copper or gold inside of devices. The workers were poisoned in the process.

About ten years ago, PROHIBITION in a way in order to follow more precisely, the spread of waste. It was clear that it will be sent from the US abroad, but who exactly was the shipping there?

Working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the group came up with an idea: attach the GPS Tracker to have pieces of waste and follow the brook as it flowed on around the world. In the years since, through a series of documentaries and reports, BAN the scope of the e-waste problem has revealed, and as the world’s dependence on electronics is growing, the work of the group has only become more urgent.

There were only a few Federal law enforcement on e-waste Export, as the state seems to have lawyers accuse recyclers of crimes such as fraud and disability, and the Basel Action Network, had a hand in all of them. In the year 2016, an Illinois recycling Executive, has been arrested for sending poisonous e-waste to landfill or re-sale to other buyers follows a BAN report. Earlier this year, he was convicted, sentenced to three years in prison after he amounted to a plea of guilty to tax evasion and. BAN, work with 60 minutes in 2008,, also recycler exposed Executive Recycling, the waste secretly the Export of e-called. Executives of the company finally reached plea agreements with the Prosecutor’s office on fraud charges.

if, However, such as work recycling-system? What a responsible world power look like? When I ask, Puckett, he gives a surprising answer. “Let’s put it this way: it’s not supposed to work,” he says. “This device was never designed to be recycled, that is the reason why we have such problems.”

in the ideal case, he says, the electronics could be easily disassembled and recycled. Instead, the workers are time-consuming to do at the end of work, the pulling apart of the electronics and break them with expensive machines, then selling what you retrieve in other companies. Recycling companies remain at the mercy of the rare metals market. Some companies and governments to work only with recyclers that are certified as eco-friendly, but it is not a cheat hard to come by.

“So you asked me,” How should it be recycled?'” he says. “Well, it’s just a mess.”


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When he moved to Hong Kong, Puckett plan, the participating to, with a little white lie.” In the past, he had pretended to be a professor researching recycling. That had not worked out so well. This time, along with a TV crew, Puckett made as an electronics buyer, knock on the doors of the makeshift recycling-compounds in Hong Kong, until someone let him in. “We were very good at it, because we learned that in China, money talks, and if you say you are there to buy equipment that you can get,” he says.

Within the construction sites, Puckett drudged through mountains of printers, boards, and LCD screens. The working conditions were appalling. In the video, produced by PBS, a translator is seen, ask the workers if they do not wear masks. She has not, in spite of dealing with potentially toxic tubes of mercury. A worker said that he had no idea the pipes were dangerous.

Puckett tracked down boxes of the Total demand exports, with the company, the accounts and the corporate logo emblazoned on them. The team pass, which was through a huge pile of gray junk, in which toxic had background lighting, carelessly stacked on top of each other. Puckett photos of what he found, and returned home, where he confronts Lorch again.

“Craig, we’ll find your things all over Hong Kong,” Puckett recalls say.

He reminds Lorch responded, “What? You let in?”

Puckett had moments of doubt, as he investigates. He had asked whether it might be a rogue employee, or a type error. But, he says, the answer hit him.

“Craig, this doesn’t sound like the words of an innocent human being,” he recalled saying.


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BAN published his report, a statement of demand released to admit to some wrongdoing. Lorch and Zirkle said they had lost under the “immense pressure of a very difficult market” and “out of sight, our values.” You said you had results, not a factual Problem with the BAN, but asked for understanding: the company had received a “dramatically growing volume of flat-screen devices” and “made a short-term business decision” sends the electronics to Hong Kong.

Oregon and Washington officials launched soon, investigations, and after some legal wrangling, a Total of Reclaim, led to a two member States, the disbursement of over $1 million in total. But it was not until a Federal investigation, which was discovered the full extent of the fraud.

The sum back case challenge was the last country to Matt Stratton’s Desk. He had an EPA-investigators for about nine years, and a Federal agent in the other facilities for other 15 before that. After retirement, he had plans to take a year and build a house. He explained to me that the investigation, which he headed, which was for the EPA, his “swan song.”

To cooperated Lorch and Zirkle the credit, he says. However, what he revealed is disturbing.

total Reclaim sold had LCD monitors to a third party shipping company, which then sent them overseas. Stratton and the state’s lawyers took the documents, the company, together with a Total Reclaim, and pored over them all.

Finally, he found a negative discrepancy. Shipping manifests from Total Reclaim, PROHIBIT the pass had been, showed the company to send “- plastic-mix” overseas. But the third-party shipping company had listed the same documents with a different Element: flat screens. Forged the documents have been. As the investigators dug deeper, Stratton says, they discovered E-Mails from Total Reclaim instruct the shipping company to fake his records.

“I started, some of the comparison work, and realized that this was a much larger, much more conspiracy, as the state does not know at all,” says Stratton. Ultimately, investigators put together a plan with a amazing extent. According to officials, the call for the sum to be Recovered, sent to more than 8 million pounds of flat panel displays with mercury to Hong Kong, where they, poisoned, according to an EPA toxicologist’s report, the workers were in danger. In the process, Lorch and Zirkle from millions of dollars, and keep it from the authorities, you saved the monitors in the Harbor island plant, the forgery of hundreds of documents to cover everything. (Lawyers for the men, the disputes, the amount of money from the Scam.)

The scheme had been around for seven years. Puckett reflects on how it could be happening right under his nose. “From the beginning, when you first get the commitment signed with us, they had lied to us,” he says.


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Lorch and Zirkle reached a plea agreement, the fraud in the fall of 2018, the acceptance of the charge of conspiracy to commit wire. The office of the Prosecutor on the case, assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson said the office as a case under the environmental laws, but that they do not quite fit. “We have no Federal law that specifically prohibits shipping this material overseas,” he says. “What we have is the Federal laws that makes it illegal to commit fraud, make it to make illegal, to get material false representation about something, money.” Without a more stringent e-waste laws, it is the best the state can do lawyers.

The plea reduced the maximum penalty for Lorch and Zirkle from 20 to five years, but prosecutors and a judge to condemn asked the two men, the full five. The defense asked for a milder sentence, with the argument that there is no definitive connection to all of the health consequences.

speak As part of the sentencing earlier this year, Wilkinson called Puckett up to. He hit wide that recyclers send waste overseas were responsible for the death, and should be prosecuted as such. “It is sure that the are victims of the left, just as dead as if they were shot from a gun,” he said.

to regulate

Since the government has failed to properly, e-waste, Wilkinson explained, ethical recyclers have been the only option. A total of Reclaim, it was at the beginning, ready to volunteer on the frontLines.

Puckett had some scruples. “I should say, the judges try to put you in prison?” he asked himself. He was not a big fan of justice, but decided it was not his place to reform it, to explain what happened.

is Still the reluctance was not just about abstract questions of justice, either. It was personal for Puckett. To support the people in the recycling industry and in the community, a Total of Reclaim, with the justification to make that Lorch and Zirkle had learned her lesson and would keep up the good work. As part of the judgment, you will see countless signed letters explaining what that meant to their life and careers to be produced.

before the court, Puckett looked around and realized how the community was in support of Lorch. They had common friends in the industry. Suddenly, Puckett was standing alone, with the prosecutors, while on the other side of the aisle were his friends. “Culturally, that’s my people over there,” thought Puckett. But he explained in court why he was not surprised to show support.

“No doubt, it will bear witness a lot from Craig and Jeff, friends who send the letters, what good men you are,” he said. “And no doubt, part of your life, you are. I know you can be generous. I know that you have done good deeds. I know. They were my friends. But I also know, now, they have committed criminal acts that corrupt the earth, and heavy casualties of innocent people.”

The judge determines how long the scheme went on, said the two had years, Vice versa, of course you would have wanted it. “Clearly, that was not isolated or short-term behaviour,” he said.

The team the defense had argued that the monitors are delivered, the challenge to Hong Kong, only about 3 percent of the Total business. But that was not an accusation that explains Richter. Total Reclaim had been successful — Lorch, and Zirkle had to dispose of the material properly, but chose not to maximize profits, instead. The judge stated that, if the mercury-filled material was treated in the same way in the USA would it on a massive national outcry. “Some of the reason why the country faces challenges in environmental protection is, because individuals like the two of you, business decisions, and placed on the consequences and other people’s lives,” he said.

Lorch and Zirkle 28 months of imprisonment have been sentenced.


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sum is to reclaim still in operation. In a brief interview, Lorch, the company is telling me shed had about half of his staff, but tried to move forward. The judge did, Lorch and Zirkle seasons, in part the sentences by Lorch the ship as Zirkle began a chance to the right time.

The company has recently brought in a new CEO, Bobby Farris, who says, you can leave the electronics recycling business completely. “I’m not in the right the participation in this business,” he says.

to talk

Lorch, the case would be turned over to the details. In the past, he says, had adopted, and it was not worth revisiting why the sum of the Reclaim, made the decisions it did. “You know, I think that it is particularly relevant at this point, let’s go back and find it,” Lorch says to me. “And really, the company is focused on the reconstruction view. We have lots of great customers, not On the left of us. We are still here.”

But you are not alone, either. In order to understand how an operation works, I visit a local business called earth Friendly. In a small warehouse, a group of workers rehabilitation and the demo days are the electronics. In one corner, an employee is the Installation of software on old laptops. On the other side of the building, another picking is carefully and sort the remains of the electronics disposed of by an alarm company. Huge cardboard boxes of circuit boards and other remains. The sound of drilling and clanking fills the air.

Andrew Shute, the President of the Friendly earth, which says to me, you deliver thousands of pounds of e-waste on a daily basis for the “downstream” recycling, where other companies pick up the material and dispose of it, break it down sure. Despite massive deduction of the electronics gone through, he the company describes as a “boutique.” There were other operations out there that may be doing corners, when dealing with larger quantities of waste.

But where is it all going?

In August, BAN me set up to find out. To the non-profit offices, I was led through the disassembly of the LCD monitor. A BAN on employee removed expertly, the rear housing, cut a green Board in two, and slipped a tracker inside. An E-Mail to the address on the front, anyone know how to get in contact with the non-profit organization.

Another BAN staff sat in the passenger seat while I drove us to a recycler in the Seattle area, which I will not name. I was nervous, looked at the smartphone he’d slipped into his shirt-pocket on the front, camera to the front, ready for the taking of the drops. But he was not worried. He was appreciated by his 500th “deployment”. The recyclers know, banned the work, but even so, he explained, it is in your best interest, the electronics that are offered to you. These electronics are, such as the recyclers make their money.

We pulled into a garage and I grabbed the monitor, with the agreement that he would do the talking. To my relief, the hand-off is almost silent. The recyclers have a duty meant to me, me to set the monitor on a platform, and asked if we needed a receipt. The PROHIBITION of the employee is logged in, to get one via E-Mail. As we walked away, I thought that someone might find you have a different E-Mail address, if someone covered the tracker.

Since then, I have observed, on BAN ‘ s software as a blue mark Washington has to go through in Google Maps. I followed him as the monitor has made its way to the North and stalled miles end up outside of Seattle. On Street View I can see the attachment, where I think that the device is being held. But there is no way to see what’s going on inside.

Published on Wed, 04 Dec 2019 15:35:14 +0000

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