With an appreciation of the dangers inherent in unmonitored recycling, HP is committing to greater transparency in the recycling supply chain and calls on other companies to do the same.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. That’s the mantra of sustainability, and some of us commit to it by bringing in our waste for recycling. Unfortunately, what gets dropped off in those receptacles doesn’t always end up being dismantled and reassembled the way we imagined.
One of what are believed to be 100’s of electronics junkyards in Hong Kong’s New Territories region, receiving US e-waste. Image courtesy: Basel Action Network
Some companies involved are not strictly playing by the rules of recycling in an environmentally responsible way. That’s the finding of the environmental health and justice organization, Basel Action Network (BAN).
As part of its e-Trash Transparency Project, in September BAN published a report called “Scam Recycling: e-Dumping on Asia by US Recyclers.” The organization placed GPS trackers in 205 monitors and printers that contained components identified as “hazardous waste under international law.”
BAN partnered with MIT's Senseable City Labs to produce an online map to show the pathways of the 205 trackers. You can see their routes and how far they traveled here.
Out of 205, 152 were delivered to US Electronics Recyclers. However, 40% of those were then shipped abroad, primarily to developing countries. These exports contradict what many of the companies claim about their recycling program and can be illegal for the countries restricted from importing such products from the US as parties to the Basel Convention.
Image courtesy: Basel Action Network
Why does this matter? As the report says that when the equipment ends up in some electronic junkyards, they pose a serious environmental and health hazard as toxins are released when workers break them up. “Inhalation and environmental release of toxic mercury and printer toners is inevitable and unrecycled residue dumping in waysides was common,” the report added.
Ironically, the good intentions that pave the path for recycling can lead to perpetuating more harm than good. The only way to combat that problematic result is by maintaining transparency in the recycling supply chain.
HP agrees. “A key part of HP’s circular economy strategy is responsible recycling of used electronics, which encompasses industry-leading recycling and reuse standards, a robust recycler audit program, and close engagement with recycling partners,” the company said in its blog.
The company says its insight into the intricacies of the recycling supply chain are based on its own extensive experience with it. For over 25 years, it has run the HP Planet Partners program “to keep used electronics and printing supplies out of landfills in more than 70 countries and territories.”
HP requires its vendors to operate in compliance with legal parameters, like the restrictions on imports established by the Basel Convention. HP vendors also are required to qualify for relevant certifications and to cooperate with regular audits. If an audit reveals an area in which the vendor is not compliant with regulations and does not remedy it in time, it may be cut off from HP’s recycling process.
HP carried out extensive audits of 58 facilities spread out over 20 different countries in 2015. The audits were to ascertain “ongoing commitment of responsible practices and improved performance.” In the interest of transparency, HP makes its participants in the HP Planet Partners Program accessible here.
HP believes that setting this standard for a transparent electronics recycling supply chain will lead to others following suit. That would be better for the planet and provide reassurance to customers that their cast off electronics will not endanger their confidential data by slipping through cracks of the regulated recycling process.
Annukka Dickens, HP Director of Human Rights and Supply Chain Responsibility, declared: “We challenge other companies in and outside of the high-tech industry to follow our lead and disclose recycler vendor standards and performance, as well as the list of recycling vendors they employ globally.”
What other leading electronics companies are making inroads on this important topic? Let us know in the comments section below.