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Basel Action Network (BAN), released a new report following a two year study that involved placing electronic GPS tracking devices into old hazardous electronic equipment such as printers and computer monitors, and then watching where they travelled across the globe.

The report, the first to be released from the project is entitled Disconnect: Goodwill and Dell Exporting the Public’s E-waste to Developing Countries, and is released in conjunction with the airing of a PBS NewHour segment entitled The Circuit, as well as an MIT interactive website which graphically shows the overall movement of the tracked devices.

Instead of being recycled, 32.5 percent of these devices were exported overseas on container ships. Most of them went to Asia and were traded in likely violation of the laws of the importing countries. Of the 149 trackers delivered to recyclers, 39 percent were exported.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing considerable backsliding in the electronics industry today compared to just a few years ago,” said BAN executive director Jim Puckett. “Meanwhile, these exports deprive our own nation of green jobs and make it difficult for responsible electronics recyclers to compete and survive.”

As a particular focus of the study and the Disconnect report, 46 of the 200 tracker-planted electronic devices were delivered to Goodwill Industries stores across the U.S. Seven of these later reported their whereabouts in the Asian countries of Thailand, Taiwan, and China (Mainland and Hong Kong). Six of these were part of Dell, Inc.’s Reconnect partnership with Goodwill.

Instead of being recycled in the U.S. as their customers were promised, these devices were exported in violation of Dell’s policies, and were likely illegal under the laws of the importing countries.

“Goodwill and Dell, have had strong reputations for social and environmental responsibility. Our findings, however, shake the foundations of that public trust, and cry out for the implementation of immediate reform when it comes to e-waste management,” said Puckett.

As part of the study, BAN travelled to the locations where the Goodwill and Dell and other trackers ended up, even retrieving one of them. Most arrived in the rural mainland border area, New Territories in Hong Kong. In this area the devices arrived at many informal, outdoor junkyards. These unpermitted facilities exposed illegal immigrant laborers and the environment as the workers smash equipment releasing toxic mercury from the LCD monitors or toxic toners from the printers.

BAN intends to continue the use of tracking technology, as they believe its use will play a pivotal role in holding an errant and troubled electronics recycling industry to account. They will also make this service available to other civil society organizations, governments, as well as large enterprises.

Published in the September 2016 Edition of American Recycler News