Last year, in the pages of E-Scrap News, the Basel Action Network (BAN) called out a growing trend of waste trade denial. Josh Lepawsky, co-author of a study we critiqued for diminishing the significance of e-waste export from developed to developing countries, responded in the December 2015 E-Scrap News magazine with a critique of his own.
BAN welcomes a fair, fact-based debate about the international trade in electronic waste. We have been closely monitoring e-waste trafficking since we first discovered massive flows to Guiyu, China in 2001. Since that time, we have collected more information on this subject from first-hand investigation than any other organization.
We continue to assert Lepawsky’s made an inappropriate interpretation of extremely faulty data to draw rash conclusions about the nature of e-scrap movement. Click here for a summary explanation of what we view as mistakes in his research.
However, Lepawsky’s rebuttal stepped beyond our strong differences of opinion when it comes to the flow of electronic materials across the globe. He also pointed out that BAN raises funds, in part, through e-Stewards, our voluntary certification program. In so doing, he sought to question the integrity of BAN’s work, implying that we may have a vested interest in distorting the facts about the global e-waste trade for financial gain.
This attack could be made against any service industry or organization. For example, doctors could be accused of promoting disease or fear of disease to make more money. The charge itself is misguided, and singling out the e-Stewards program is as well. Here’s why:
Income diversity for nonprofit groups is best practice
Every nonprofit organization has a charitable mission for which it seeks financial support. BAN is dedicated to a toxic-free future, to waste transparency and responsible recycling, and to environmental justice. Funding for any charity comes from donations or earned income from the nonprofit group’s services, and the most fiscally sustainable nonprofit organizations find earned income and strive not to rely on donations alone. Furthermore, the most effective earned income programs create income while furthering the organization’s mission.
At BAN, we achieve this with the e-Stewards program. The initiative fulfills our mission of fostering truly responsible recycling globally. The license fees we collect from our e-Stewards-certified recyclers mostly go toward administering the program, while the funds left over go toward promoting the e-Stewards program and BAN’s e-Stewardship campaign work, which in turn supports the e-Stewards recyclers that adhere to the highest standards.
Nonprofit groups commonly create certifications aligned with their missions. For example, the World Wildlife Fund created both the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council to manage certifications for forest and ocean conservation. Within the field of recycling, ISRI created its RIOS certification. These programs all serve the causes the organizations are entrusted to accomplish.
While Lepawsky makes much of the ratio between BAN’s earned income (e-Stewards) and donations and how that has changed since we’ve launched e-Stewards, the ratio is irrelevant, as both forms of income are derived from support for our core mission and message. The real question is the following: Is there a reason to doubt BAN’s reporting, upon which we base our work and seek funds?
Accuracy in reporting: a watchdog’s imperative
Ultimately, people judge an organization’s integrity by the quality of the information the group provides and its track record in doing so. As an organization that makes its living as a trusted watchdog, our credibility is our currency – our stock in trade. We would lose public, foundation and business support if we lost our credibility, and because we are always a lawyer’s whim away from a defamation suit, inaccuracies could end up costing us in court too. As a result, we are highly motivated to never play fast and loose with the truth. And if we do err, we will always be beyond quick to admit it.
Since our founding in 1997, no information we have ever reported has been proven wrong or exaggerated despite the often controversial and groundbreaking nature of our revelations.
We were the first to report on the global e-waste dumping in China. It turned out to be an even worse problem than we first reported. Later, we were the first to report on e-waste dumping in West Africa. Many UN and journalistic studies have corroborated what we have found, and millions of dollars have been allocated to further study the problem and find solutions. BAN has been thanked by governments around the world for reporting that allowed global dumping to be proactively addressed.
Similarly, we have reported on the wrongdoings of irresponsible U.S. companies, including Intercon Solutions, E-World, Diversified Recycling, MPC Recycling, Dow Management and Stone Castle Recycling. One could argue that if we cared more about money than truth, we would not have prevented many of these companies from entering or remaining in our e-Stewards program, since denying or ousting them meant turning aside thousands of dollars in license fees. Furthermore, we’ve withstood costly defamation lawsuits for telling the truth about some of these companies.
In December 2015, we confirmed Guiyu, China has finally begun to clean up its informal recycling operations while preventing waste importation into the region. It’s too early to say if this will play a role in reducing exports from developed countries, or if it’ll mean exports simply go elsewhere. Either way, one could argue that confirming the Guiyu success might hurt our fundraising potential as we have eliminated part of the problem for which we seek funds. But we think that notion is absurd. We’re cautiously enthusiastic about any noted progress, and we hope our donors recognize our successes and remain ready to help us tackle the next problem with the same accurate reporting and innovative solutions.
Plenty of territory to watch over
Soon, BAN will release new evidence showing the continued existence of global waste dumping from stronger economies to weaker ones. With the recent crash in global commodity prices, we have even seen a new disturbing trend of companies that know better now cutting corners in order to survive. Unless manufacturers take the mantra of “producer responsibility” seriously, e-waste with little value will increasingly end up dumped in holes in the ground or in distant lands. If we care about our children’s planet, we cannot let that happen.
After all, we all have a vested interest in environmental justice.