Basel Action Network — Part of the E-Waste Solution

Open burning of plastic encased metal printer and motor parts. Open burning of plastics and other material is common in order to reduce the waste to metals. Guiyu, China. December 2001. ©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

Over the past two days, writer Caryn Green has explained what happens to many of the e-wastes people dispose of when we get new electronics, such as computers, flat screen televisions, and cell phones. She’s introduced us to the Basel Convention, which was written to prohibit the dumping of e-waste and other toxics from wealthier countries to poorer ones. Today, she introduces us to the Basel Action Network, an NGO that promotes the goals of the Basel Convention. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

Workers unloading sea-going container full of imported televisions and monitors at Alaba market in Lagos, Nigeria. Many of these that are not working, will be tossed into the dumps outside of the market.©2006 Basel Action Network (BAN)

The Basel Action Network (BAN), is “a global toxic-trade watchdog organization” that works to prevent the dumping of used electronics from wealthy nations to developing nations. With so many companies and charitable organizations offering to collect donations of used computers, flatscreen TVs, and cell phones, consumers are often lulled into the illusion that our used goods will be used for good. Instead, many of them end up dismantled, burned, and dumped in Ghana, China, Nigeria, and other developing nations.

Named for the Basel Convention — the UN-administered agreement that regulates hazardous waste shipment — BAN is the world’s foremost organization focused on confronting the environmental and economic ramifications of toxic trade. Working to prevent disproportionate and unsustainable dumping of the world’s toxic waste and pollution on the poorest nations, BAN actively promotes sustainable and just solutions to the consumption and waste crisis — banning waste trade, while advocating green, toxic-free design of consumer products.

Why is BAN necessary? Here’s what the BAN website has to say:

There is an ugly underbelly of economic globalisation that few wish to talk about. Under the guise of simply utilizing the “competitive advantage” of cheap labour markets in poorer areas of the world, a disproportionate burden of toxic waste, dangerous products and polluting technologies are currently being exported from rich industrialised countries to poorer developing countries. In effect, rather than being helped to leap-frog over dirty development cycles directly toward clean production methods, developing countries are instead being asked to perpetuate some of the world’s most toxic industries and products and are even asked to become the global dumping ground for much of the world’s toxic wastes.

Supporting the Basel Ban

Just some of the many labels found on computers and monitors which indicated to investigators where each load of computers originated. Guiyu, China. December 2001.

Working closely with the United Nations Environment Programme as a leading NGO participant, BAN is dedicated to promoting the Basel Ban Amendment Ratifications. The Basel Ban decision imposed a ban on all forms of hazardous waste exports from the 30 wealthiest, most industrialized countries — the membership of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) — to all non-OECD countries, effective January 1, 1998.

Following this decision, opponents of the ban — the United States, Australia, Canada, South Korea, and others — sought to undermine it, arguing that it would not be legally binding unless it became part of the Basel Convention through amendment. Citing restraint of trade concerns, the opposing governments, joined by the United States Chamber of Commerce and the International Chamber of Commerce, have launched a lengthy and convoluted international legal fight apparently aimed at delaying compliance.

To learn more about the Basel Ban and Basel Action Network’s efforts to promote ratification, read “The Basel Ban: Triumph over Business as Usual” by Basel Action Network founder, Jim Puckett.

e-Steward Recyclers

Are old electronics piling up in your house or workplace? Look for an e-Steward recycler before you discard them. Photo: Caryn Green

Perhaps surprisingly, even the “take-back” programs provided by some of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers and retailers can’t be trusted, according to BAN. Taking your used electronics “back where you bought it” doesn’t guarantee that it won’t end up as e-waste that’s shipped offshore for dismantling and burning in a developing nation (or that your data won’t be stolen by a criminal half a world away).

To make sure that your electronic discards do not end up harming the planet and the poor, BAN urges consumers to use only licensed e-Steward™ recyclers. The e-Stewards have been vetted by BAN and have agreed not to export hazardous electronics despite the profits that can be made by avoiding the real costs of proper domestic recycling.

Ban administers a fully-accredited, 3rd-party-audited certification program to qualify e-Steward Recyclers to meet the world’s most stringent environmental and social justice criteria for the responsible disposal of electronics. These criteria stipulate that no toxic e-waste is dumped in landfills or incinerators, exported to developing countries, or sent to prison labor operations. It also protects against the unauthorized release of data in private computers.

BAN Initiatives

BAN has four major, ongoing initiatives:

  • Definitive Source of Information on Toxic Trade – BAN provides researchers, journalists, and the public with up-to-date information on the toxic waste trade. It serves as the “toxic trade media centre,” providing source materials and published articles. BAN has released groundbreaking research and conducted investigations in developing countries, documenting toxic trade abuses in photos and on film in conjunction with mass media outlets such as CBS 60 Minutes and PBS Frontline.
  • International Policy Advocacy BAN works closely with the United Nations (UN), the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the UNEP Chemicals Program and Governing Council, regularly participating as NGO experts in policy deliberations and other internal meetings. BAN has also produced Model National Legislation on toxic waste trade for developing countries.
  • Research and InvestigationsBAN produces on-the-ground videos and photographs of the toxic waste trade around the world. The organization conducts field investigations and documents their findings. Two documentary films, Exporting Harm and The Digital Dump: Exporting Reuse and Abuse to Africa are available with a donation to BAN.

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  • Campaigns – Through coalitions with other NGOs around the world, BAN engages in effective campaigns to stop the dumping of toxic waste in developing nations.

E-Waste Stewardship Project to stop the importation of e-waste in developing nations and to encourage producer responsibility and green design.

Green Ship-breaking to ensure that all hazardous materials are either processed domestically or removed from all US vessels prior to export and scrapping on foreign shores.

Zero Mercury Campaign to adopt an internationally binding treaty to eliminate mercury pollution — its extraction, use, trade, and recycling — particularly in developing countries.

Basel Ban Ratification – Promoting dual action by the US and other nations to ratify both Ban and the treaty, and to block efforts to undermine the Basel Convention.

For More Information

The Basel Action Network
122 S. Jackson Street, Suite 320
Seattle, WA 98104

BAN is a 501(c) 3 charitable organization of the United States, based in Seattle, Washington.

Caryn Green

Contributing Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

Related Posts

Part 1: Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading

Part 2: The Basel Convention – Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste

Part 3: Basel Action Network – Part of the E-Waste Solution (Top of Page)

Part 4: National Cristina Foundation – Connecting Used Technology to Worthy Recipients

Part 5: Electronics TakeBack Coalition Promotes Producer Responsibility


11 Responses to “Basel Action Network — Part of the E-Waste Solution”

  1. The Basel Convention — Protecting Developing Nations from E-Waste | Blue Planet Green Living on February 4th, 2010 10:02 pm

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  2. Computer Recycling – The Downside of Upgrading | Blue Planet Green Living on February 4th, 2010 10:03 pm

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  3. National Cristina Foundation — Connecting Used Technology to Worthy Recipients | Blue Planet Green Living on February 5th, 2010 2:16 pm

    [...] Part 3: Basel Action Network – Part of the E-Waste Solution [...]

  4. Caryn Green, Contributing Writer | Blue Planet Green Living on February 15th, 2010 5:24 pm

    [...] Basel Action Network — Part of the E-Waste Solution [...]

  5. Electronics TakeBack Coalition Promotes Producer Responsibility | Blue Planet Green Living on February 18th, 2010 3:17 pm

    [...] Part 3: Basel Action Network – Part of the E-Waste Solution [...]

  6. EarthEcycle on October 21st, 2010 3:00 pm

    Ban, Basil Action Network seems to be all about headlines in the name of monopolizing the ewaste industry and monetary gain. In my experience they are just another left wing Nazi self interest group created and self regulating for the few they let into their little pier group (at a cost). Last year they attacked my company, EarthEcycle, after all the smoke blew and no infractions were found, they got real quiet. No apology, no fixing what is broken. Also Ned Eldridge or ELoop, LLC ran a recycling event right after mine and claimed all the glory. The fact is they all send the same products to the same people either whole or dismantled, they just charge you for picking it up. Third world developing countries? Are you serious? …please, these countries are making the stuff in the first place. Jeffrey L. Nixon of EarthEcycle in Tulsa Oklahoma.

  7. Julia Wasson on October 25th, 2010 7:28 pm

    Thanks for your comments. We’re always open to alternate opinions, and appreciate you taking the time to tell us your experience. If you’d like to write a well-researched post about a better way to recycle ewaste, please let us know so we can consider publishing it. Best regards, Julia

  8. EarthEcycle on October 28th, 2010 1:41 pm

    Julia, Thank you for offering a fair chance to enlighten the public of the true ewaste war that is going on. In good spirits, I accept your offer. We will put some well researched information together for you after verifying all sources and occurrences. In general, there is a war. This is a fairly new industry and BAN and their “EStewards” may be positioning themselves as the Fed’s special interest group. Just as in any other industry rules are made by the few that benefit from them. Let’s start the responsibility at the production level. If these third world countries are not technical and responsible to recycle, then perhaps we should not be purchasing their products in the first place. Also, we have illegal land fills, dumping and irresponsible recyclers right here on our soil. Let’s start by cleaning up our own back yards.

  9. Julia Wasson on October 30th, 2010 2:08 pm

    I look forward to reading what you put together. If it’s well researched and documented from reliable resources, we’ll certainly publish it. Let’s keep the dialog going!

  10. Robin Ingenthron on February 5th, 2011 8:30 am

    The title is correct, Basel Action Network is part of the solution. Unfortunately, they are also a part – a large part – of the problem. After generating awareness of “toxics along for the ride” in 2001, the organization exaggerated the proportion of polluting waste (80%? Do some research), and then organized the equivalent of a “coffee boycott” to protest wages of coffee farmers. Fair trade coffee was a better solution for coffee farmers. Unfortunately, BAN has done more than any polluter, any corporation, or any corrupt official to stop fair trade – which is the proper and clean recycling in poor countries combined with the excellent repair and refurbishing skills those nations nurture. The countries which earn $3k per person per year (USA averages $46k) have gotten internet at 10x the rate of the developed world since 2001, when BAN’s first film was shot. The human beings on the other side of the export trade are smart and hard working and willing to do as much or more than an American recycling company, given fair trade incentives and training. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, environmental official, with a degree in international relations, I started a company to emulate fair trade coffee, and recruited other recyclers – and we have all be shunned by the “e-steward” shredding cult. I have been dumbfounded how little digging some journalists have done beneath the (decade old) poster child policy promoted by BAN. Google about the CBS 60 Minutes Wasteland episode, and you can find photos of the refurbishing factories they never visited. BAN knew about them in advance and never shared that side of the story. But don’t take my word for it, ask the Geeks of Color, the techs and tinkerers. Take a closer look at the TVs being unloaded in Africa, in the picture you used in your own post – I can get you introductions. Do you really think they are going to burn them? If you wish to repost any of the posts I’ve written on this subject at my website, feel free. Or tear them to pieces, I think dialectic is the best way to heal unintended consequences.

  11. Julia Wasson on February 12th, 2011 11:48 am

    Hi Robin.

    We welcome the dialog about BAN and e-cycling in general. One of our writers will be getting in touch with you in the near future.

    Thanks for speaking your mind.