Toxic Fraud

This migrant labor family lives in a shelter made from bags of imported electronic waste in the village of Guiyu, China.© 2008 Basel Action Network (BAN)

Next time you decide to donate your old cell phone, computer or television set in the name of charity, be sure to do your homework. The global pollution watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN) found that two Humane Society charity e-waste collection events in the Pittsburgh area were unwittingly part of a toxic fraud. Here’s what happened: The group EarthECycle had partnered with the Humane Society for fundraising, promising up to $10,000 for every 100,000 pounds of e-waste collected. But instead of recycling the 150,000 pounds of collected e-waste as promised, they filled at least seven sea-bound containers and exported six to Hong Kong and one to South Africa. BAN, who tracked the shipments, has alerted the importing country governments and Hong Kong authorities have already taken action to return the shipment.

These developing nations have for years been the recipient of America’s e-waste, creating toxic dumping grounds highlighted in BAN’s films "Exporting Harm" and "The Digital Dump." One of the worst polluted spots is Guiyu, China, where the levels of dioxin, lead and other cancer-causing pollutants as a result of mountains of e-waste are at a worldwide high. Says a BAN press release: "Blood levels in 80% of the children in Guiyu are elevated and already demonstrable brain impairment has been recorded."

"Sadly, once again the American public appears to have been duped by a fake recycler and become the unwitting accomplice in what is really an international crime," said BAN e-Stewardship Director Sarah Westervelt. "People think they are doing a good deed helping animals, and that their old stuff is getting recycled safely but the reality is that this is a scam."

BAN is working with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition to encourage national legislation that bans the export of toxic e-waste, as Europe has already done. The group also maintains a list of responsible e-cyclers, called the e-Stewards Initiative—that agree not to export hazardous e-wastes.

CONTACTS: Basil Action Network; BAN’s E-Steward Recyclers; Electronics TakeBack Coalition