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Surrey e-waste recycler charged for illegal exports

Watchdog slams lax enforcement, seeks tougher penalties
Migrant workers from Hunan and Szechuan provinces cracking open charred components to remove the copper at the burn village near Guiyu

Federal charges against a Surrey recycling firm for the alleged illegal export of hazardous electronics to China don't reflect the success of B.C.'s e-waste recycling system, according to a spokesman.

Craig Wisehart, executive director of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), said the stewardship agency fully supports the prosecution of "nefarious" recyclers who send e-waste to developing countries, where impoverished workers may be poisoned by toxins.

He was responding to Environment Canada's decision to charge Surrey-based Electronics Recycling Canada with shipping cathode ray tube monitors and batteries to Macau in 2011.

Company officials could not be reached for comment.

"We hope that everyone is doing the right thing," Wisehart said, adding the Surrey firm is not an EPRA member.

"We most definitely support Environment Canada's action in prosecuting those people who are in contravention of the law."

Wisehart said audits ensure electronics taken to EPRA-authorized depots, mostly Encorp Return-It locations, are responsibly recycled in North America.

"Since our organization has come into existence, we believe this problem has declined significantly."

Run by electronic producers and retailers and funded by fees on new products, EPRA handled 2,000 trailer loads of B.C. electronics last year that might otherwise have gone to landfills or been illegally exported contrary to international treaty.

But there's no requirement that all e-waste get processed via EPRA, however, and Wisehart noted there are legitimate operators that aren't members.

They include non-profits that reuse and recycle computers for school use.

Jim Puckett, executive director of the Seattle-based watchdog group Basel Action Network, says the Surrey company is just one of several "very shady operators" in the Lower Mainland shipping an estimated 30 containers a month overseas.

"A lot of this is sent under the guise of helping the poor by sending old equipment for reuse," he said, but added CRT monitors aren't even being resold in Africa because the market is saturated.

When a container ships out with monitors jumbled loose rather than packed with padding on pallets, it's a warning sign they're going actually going for salvage.

Puckett said Electronics Recycling Canada has been regularly exporting since 2002 – the firm was featured in a 2008 CBC documentary – but the government has done very little enforcement until now.

"I wonder if it will be serious this time," he said, noting the last big flurry of prosecutions in Canada involved 27 companies in 2006 that got average fines of $1,600 each.

"That was a minuscule slap on the wrist," Puckett said. "You make that much profit on those shipments. This is a serious crime and it's not been diligently prosecuted."

Puckett said volunteers who monitor the Surrey operator have spotted electronics there from Surrey's libraries and school district, as well as local hospital equipment and traffic lights containing circuit boards.

Local governments should be more careful in disposing of their electronics, he said.

Much e-waste illegally shipped out of Metro Vancouver is believed to end up near Guiyu, in China's Guangdong province, where children have high rates of lead poisoning.


Electronic waste at premises of Electronics Recycling Canada in Surrey. Photo courtesy of Basel Action Network.

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