Wednesday, December 26, 2012

'Recyclers' guilty in illegal e-waste exports to China

CRTs in an e-waste smuggling depot in Hong Kong. Photo: May 2008 Basel Action Network

It took four years, but the combined actions of an environmental watchdog, a national news program, federal prosecutors and a Denver trial jury have delivered environmental justice in the case of a business that pocketed millions by disguising illegal foreign dumping of hazardous waste as responsible recycling.

It started when Basel Action Network (BAN). a watchdog group, tipped off the CBS news program, 60 Minutes. about illegal shipments of computer monitors and other electronic waste to third-world nations. CBS investigated and ran a story in November 2008 alleging that a Colorado company that claimed to be be properly recycling the scrap material in the U.S. was actually dumping it abroad. The story was updated on Aug 27, 2009. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office took it from there, indicting 
Englewood, Colo.-based Executive Recycling and its CEO Brandon Ritcher, 38, and VP of operations Tor Olson, 37. 


On Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, following an 11-day trial, a jury in Denver found the pair guilty on multiple counts of mail and wire fraud, environmental crimes, smuggling and obstruction. They will be sentenced in April.

“For years this company also deceived the public by falsely advertising an environmentally friendly U.S. recycling business plan.  Instead, it regularly exported obsolete and discarded electronic equipment with toxic materials to third-world countries, and took actions to illegally hide these practices from government officials,” federal prosecutors said.  

According to BAN, prosecuting the Executive case was very difficult as the Justice Department had to make its case using fraud, smuggling and other charges since U.S. export laws are "vague and ineffective."  BAN is part of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling which are pressing Congress to pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act which would bring the U.S. into compliance with international Basel Convention decisions forbidding export of hazardous electronic waste to developing counties

Executive Recycling was caught this time,” said BAN Executive Director Jim Puckett, “but it has been almost impossible for the government to prosecute this kind of very common activity due to a lack of appropriate legislation. If we can pass the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act in Congress we could put a quick halt to the horrors of criminal waste trafficking.

Here is CBS 4 Denver's report at the start of the trial.

According to CBS 4 Denver:
A 2008 “60 Minutes” edition followed a shipping container full of electronic waste from Englewood to Hong Kong. The dangerous hazardous waste included old computer monitors containing CRTs, or cathode ray tubes, made of toxic lead.
The defendants regularly negotiated the sale of electronic waste to brokers who represented foreign buyers or who sold the electronic waste overseas. The foreign buyers often paid the defendants directly.
To transport the electronic waste, the defendants used shipping cargo containers which were loaded at the company’s facility. The containers were then transported by rail to domestic ports for export overseas
Executive Recycling touted itself as a green company that would responsibly recycle, or re-purpose old computers, cellphones and other electronic components within the U.S.
The company collected electronic waste from private households, businesses, and government entities.
The defendants made $1.8 million in illegal activity and shipped more than 100,000 CRTs to foreign countries, including China.

Related environmental news stories:
Electronics Recycler Convicted for Illegal Exports to Developing Countries

Recycling Company and Executives Found Guilty of Fraud


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