Earlier this month, an interesting article was published in Recycling International. It was written by SERI board member, Katharina Kummer Peiry, MLaw, PhD, who served five years as the Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention, and is currently the Director of the Swiss-based consulting firm Kummer EcoConsult. The article addresses some of the misconceptions and unintended consequences regarding the Basel Ban Amendment.
Excerpts from the article:
Everybody has seen the photos that have gone around the world of an Asian toddler sitting on the ground amid landfilled piles of e-scrap, and African children burning computer wiring to extract copper. Looking at these pictures, one cannot but feel outrage. The Basel Ban Amendment prohibits all exports of materials legally defined as hazardous wastes under the Basel Convention from countries that are members of the EU or the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) to countries that are not members of these organizations. It has been celebrated as a major success in preventing the use of developing countries as cheap disposal options for hazardous wastes, and irresponsible recycling at the expense of poor people with no alternative but to risk their health in order to make a living. There are, however, a number of misconceptions surrounding the Ban Amendment.
There is a widespread belief that the Basel Convention, through the Ban Amendment, prohibits the export of all UEPs (used electronic products) from OECD to non-OECD countries, regardless of what is being traded for what purpose. This is factually inaccurate. For one thing, although the Ban Amendment enjoys some political support, it is not in force; therefore, it is not a binding part of the Basel Convention and does not constitute international law.
Another common misconception is that the Ban Amendment would generally prohibit exports from developed to developing countries. In reality, owing to geopolitical changes over recent decades, 'OECD member' no longer automatically equates with 'developed country'. For example, Chile, Mexico and Turkey are members of the OECD, but are in some policy contexts considered developing countries; Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates are not OECD members, but nobody would question their status as highly-developed economies. Supporters of the Basel Ban Amendment and similar pieces of legislation strongly argue that a ban on exports from OECD to non-OECD countries is the solution. Unfortunately, the mere existence of a ban will not solve the problem. Enforcement is extremely difficult even in the most highly-developed countries. Add to this the reality of corruption in many countries and a blanket ban will merely force the 'dirty business' into illegality.
Not only does a blanket ban fail to stop illicit exports, it also has unintended effects on legitimate operators who abide by the applicable legislation: it will prevent desirable transactions that extend the lifespan of electronic equipment or allow the extraction of valuable resources from UEPs and create safe jobs in developing countries. An example is repair and refurbishment of UEPs in state-of-the-art facilities located outside the OECD and the EU. It is for these reasons that those wishing to promote a lifecycle approach and green materials management globally do not support the Basel Ban Amendment as it stands. A more effective solution would be to develop a global system to ensure that UEPs are recycled only in facilities certified to broadly-accepted international standards that ensure environmentally sound management.
SERI is facilitating a number of exciting initiatives with R2 Leaders and other organizations that will significantly advance the cause of safe, sustainable and accessible electronics reuse and recycling around the world. To learn more about our efforts and those of R2 Leaders, please visit the SERI website at SustainableElectronics.org.