Waste & Resource Recovery

Report: Australia has allowed likely illegal export of e-waste

Report: Australia has allowed likely illegal export of e-waste

The Basel Action Network (BAN) has revealed that Australia has allowed the likely illegal export of e-waste to developing Asian nations, including Hong Kong and Thailand.

Last September and October, BAN deployed 35 pieces of non-functional e-waste equipment including CRT and LCD monitors as well as printers across Australia, all of which had GPS trackers embedded in them. These materials were qualified under the Basel Convention, which Australia has ratified, as hazardous waste.

Of the 35 trackers, two were exported, one moved to a seaport and was likely exported, 14 were sent to a recycler, five made their way to landfill, seven never moved, five had no signal after delivery, and two moved to an unknown location. Two are still reporting regulatory and the rest have gone quiet, which may indicate being bulldozed into a landfill, buried deep in a warehouse and having been shredded or disassembled by a recycler.

BAN said the three devices that appear to have been exported came from OfficeWorks, with two definitely going to Hong Kong’s New Territories area. Both of these were LCD monitors from Brisbane and one was later re-exported to an e-waste processing facility in Thailand.

OfficeWorks runs “Bring I.T. Back” – an e-waste Drop Zone as part of the government’s NTCRS.

“There can be little doubt that these exports were illegal due to the fact that all three countries concerned, Australia, China (including Hong Kong), and Thailand are all parties to the Basel Convention,” BAN said in its UN-funded report.

BAN travelled to the two locations in Asia where the exported LCDs ended up. Both of these, without showing any other stopping points after their respective OfficeWorks deliveries, were joined in one intermodal container and shipped to the Ping Che, in Hong Kong – an area known for e-waste trafficking.

“However, when we visited the location a few months after the arrival of the LCDs, there was no trace of e-waste in the facility – apparently, it had been cleaned out and one of the tracked devices stopped signalling,” BAN said.

“The other one, however, we visited its second location in Thailand. In Thailand that LCD monitor arrived at a location that was involved in crude smelting of circuit boards, creating deadly dioxins and furans, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”

In tracking the monitors and visiting the two sites, BAN concluded that:

  • The two units of e-waste tracked off-shore could well represent as much as 16,302 tons which would fill around 900 intermodal containers of such e-waste exported to developing countries per annum.
  • The final destination of at least one of the devices tracked was a highly polluting primitive circuit board and acid stripping operation in Thailand of the type recently shut down by the Thai government.
  • Local contamination would include heavy metal, dioxin, furan, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon fallout and contamination of crops including rice, castor beans and mangos, as well as groundwater contamination from the sludge pond.
  • The delivery point for the likely illegal export were two OfficeWorks stores in Brisbane and were both government sanctioned consumer drop-off locations of the Drop Zone program.
  • Five of the units (14.28%) of hazardous e-waste ended up in solid waste landfills — not an appropriate location for hazardous waste. This amount could represent around 81,396 metric tons of hazardous waste per annum.

OfficeWorks MD Mark Ward told The Guardian the company was “disappointed” in the findings and said they were working with their supplier “who has government accreditation” to “ensure that e-waste collected in our stores is recycled safely and appropriately.”

“We would never knowingly illegally or unethically dump waste,” Ward said.

BAN also made several recommendations for Australia in its report, including:

  • Better monitoring and enforcement by the federal government of its sanctioned drop-off locations.
  • Investigating and prosecuting OfficeWorks for any Basel Convention violations.
  • Educating recyclers and Drop Zone participants of the e-waste materials that are deemed hazardous under the Basel Convention.
  • Certifying all recyclers to the e-Stewards Standard to assure their customers that they will not violate their data security nor the Basel Convention.

BAN is also urging Australia and Thailand to follow in the footsteps of China and Europe in ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment.

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