Earth Day frenzy raises hardware recycling questions

Nonprofit firm BAN accused 1-800-GOT-JUNK of promoting the US trade of toxic waste through its free e-waste collection program

On a day when companies are promoting their green efforts as part of Earth Day, a nonprofit has accused some organizations of causing more environmental damage in the name of recycling electronic equipment.

Companies that do recycling are collecting used products such as mobile phones and exporting them to developing countries where heavy metals and hazardous waste from the devices are poisoning poor communities, said Sarah Westervelt, the electronic waste project coordinator for Basel Action Network (BAN), a part of the nonprofit group Earth Economics.

BAN gets its name from the Basel Convention, an international treaty signed in 1989 to control and prevent the international trade of hazardous waste.

Last week BAN attacked junk collection company 1-800-GOT-JUNK for not offering a guarantee that its free electronic waste collection program wouldn't result in toxic materials being exported to developing countries. The company held a free recycling event on April 19 at 67 locations in the US and Canada.

The event was an effort to raise awareness about 1-800-GOT-JUNK's services, said Tania Hall, a company spokeswoman. 1-800-GOT-JUNK is not a recycling company; its main mission is to help customers reclaim space by collecting junk and putting it in landfills, Hall said. The company offers the service at over 340 locations in the US and Canada itself and through franchisees.

BAN proposed that 1-800-GOT-JUNK's franchisees and recycling brokers sign a contract certifying they don't export hazardous materials, but its overtures were rejected, Westervelt said. BAN also asked 1-800-GOT-JUNK to tell its franchisees to remove from events recyclers such as Second Life Computers, in Pennsylvania, which exports "non-working equipment" to Malaysia.

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