Basel meeting ends, but debate continues on reuse and refurbishment

Basel meeting ends, but debate continues on reuse and refurbishment

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

More reactions are coming in on a disagreement over reuse and refurbishment at the recently-concluded Basel Convention meeting in Geneva.

Last week, representatives from developing countries voted against proposed rule changes that would have exempted non-working, but potentially repairable electronics from the Basel Convention's hazardous waste control procedures. Since a consensus could not be reached at the meeting, the proposal was not adopted. Current rules allow devices to be exported for repair and reuse.

The Information Technology Industry Council, which had advocated for the change, says it "strongly backs tough protections to prevent products at the end of their lives from being dumped in places without the facilities or specialization to handle them." ITI says the proposal was necessary to allow warranty returns to OEMs to be considered products, rather than wastes.

Despite assurances that the revisions would be in service of greater repair and refurbishment among OEMs, environmentalists cheered the failure of the proposal as a victory against the flow of hazardous waste to the developing world.

"ITI has lost a lot of credibility in this process. They tried to flex their lobby muscle and place a monumental loophole in Basel," said Basel Action Network executive director Jim Puckett. "The basic rule of the guideline concluded that if something is not working or its functionlaity has not been tested, then it is deemed to be a hazardous waste. The older mobile phone (MPPI) and computing equipment (PACE) guidelines for transboundary movement had basically concluded this as well but included an exemption for warrantied material... ITI over-reached and begin demanding wide-open exemptions for virtually all exports of e-waste as long as a destination of repair was asserted. It would have opened the doors wide to fully legal trade because all one would have to do is claim that your material was bound for repair. This would have spelled the demise of the electronics recycling industry in North America and Europe as we know it because there would be a disincentive to actually dismantle or shred materials as export of whole equipment would be totally legal."

However, industry groups and many of the developed nations that backed the proposal say that could not be farther from the truth.

Rick Goss, ITI senior VP for environment and sustainability, flatly denied the allegation that technology companies were trying to send unusable electronics overseas, saying that BAN's press release — which asserted the proposal would "widen the floodgates of a tide of toxic techno-trash" — was "inflammatory misinformation."

"Electronics companies operate [repair and refurbishment] facilities around the world. We want to ensure that the Basel Convention recommendations don't have unintended consequences of preventing companies from fixing or refitting products that still have useful life in them," said Goss in a statement. "We want to avoid requirements that could unintentionally prevent a customer from sending a product back to the manufacturer for repair; a lessee from returning used computers and servers to the lessor; a manufacturer from conducting important diagnostic work on a piece of failed equipment; or, a company from shipping a used part to a foreign market to fix sophisticated medical equipment or a computer server."

When asked why the proposed changes were necessary for OEMs to pursue refurbishment activities, Goss said "There is nothing currently in the Basel Convention text that impedes our members' refurbishment activities. That said, there are some national laws that do inhibit the reuse of devices."

The next meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention (COP-12) is tentatively slated for 2015, where backers of the proposed rule changes will have another opportunity to convince developing countries to sign on. Rules are adopted at the meetings through consensus among signatory countries, which would be needed for any change to move forward. If a change were to be adopted, it would then be up to individual countries to update their national laws to reflect the Basel Convention update.

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