US exports of goods and services may be decreasing, but one export that appears to be hanging in there is hazardous electronic waste.
According to a recent investigation conducted by the Seattle-based e-waste watchdog group Basel Action Network (BAN), much of the hazardous electronic waste discarded in America is not being recycled properly - and by not recycled properly he means dumped in a junkyard in southeast Asia.
Jim Puckett who leads BAN said that "most of the public still thinks that they're going to recycle e-waste right there in America. They have the right to know where their stuff goes."
Last year the investigation inserted GPS tracking devices inside 200 discarded computers, printers and TV's. The devices were dropped off at donation centers, recyclers, and electronic take-back programs across the country. What the investigation found was that about a third of the items were illegally exported from the US, generally ending up in independent shops and junkyards in southeast Asia.
Using a mapping app on an iPad, Puckett tracked several of the items, including one left with Dell Reconnect, to the outskirts of Hong Kong.
Puckett's investigation led him to a site on the outskirts of the city of Hong Kong, where workers without protective gear, wearing aprons dusted with extremely poisonous toner ink, were dismantling, and in some cases simply smashing, large piles of old printers.
The salvage locations were littered with the broken white fluorescent tubes used to illuminate LCD flat-screen monitors on the printers. When broken, these items release highly-toxic mercury vapor. Through his translator, Puckett learned that the workers were not made aware that they were dealing with toxic materials, or that their health was at risk.
Another device mounted with a Puckett GPS locater was found in a nearby abandoned field, amid scattered pieces of LCD and CRT monitors, camcorders and keyboards. Hong Kong bans the import of hazardous e-waste from the US, and Puckett believes many of these operations are illegal.
The Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department said "On the whole, Hong Kong has been effective in combating hazardous waste shipments", also adding that at least 21 cargo loads of e-waste have been sent back to the US in the past three years.
Ultimately, BAN's tracking investigation revealed that 65 US recyclers illegally shipped e-waste to China, Thailand, Pakistan, Taiwan, Mexico, and Kenya. Of the 28 electronic GPS-monitored devices dropped off by Puckett with Dell Reconnect, six went abroad, to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Thailand.
In response, Beth Johnson, the head of Dell's producer responsibility program said the company is interested in finding out how the tracked electronics ended up overseas. "If there is something that did not follow the system, we would certainly want to know about it and certainly take corrective action."
Well, now Dell knows that it's been dumping hazardous electronic waste into Asia - let's see if it updates the website to say: "plus you'll be helping to protect the environment and benefit your community at the same time - all while dumping all of the hazardous shit into Asia!"