E-Scrap News

How GPS tracking shook up Washington’s e-scrap system

Washington legislationA Basel Action Network project that followed the trail of broken devices didn’t just lead to a loss of certification for one company – it also prompted an entire state program to take action, recent analysis shows.

The BAN project showed that Seattle-based processor Total Reclaim exported e-scrap to Hong Kong, a fact that caused a significant shift in the allocation of material to processors within the state program over the past year.

It also provided an impetus for legislation now working its way through the Washington state legislature.

“We had a fairly serious hiccup here this past year with one of the recyclers, in which some of the products were shipped overseas,” state Rep. Strom Peterson said at a March 28 hearing for his bill in the state capitol. “In general, what this bill wants to do is really add some transparency and accountability to our e-waste program here in Washington state.”

Following trail of GPS trackers

Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based advocacy group that founded the e-Stewards standard, in May 2016 released the results of its e-Trash Transparency Project. That effort involved seeding low-value electronics with GPS tracker units, dropping them off for recycling and following their trails. One-third of the time, they ended up overseas.

After the e-Trash Transparency Project report came out, Total Reclaim lost its e-Stewards certification and was fined $444,000 by the Washington Department of Ecology. Total Reclaim is appealing the financial penalty. Company owner Craig Lorch told E-Scrap News Total Reclaim is no longer exporting the materials it was previously sending overseas.

Some in the industry have questioned BAN’s motivations and challenged its methodologies and conclusions. BAN, meanwhile, described the project as forcing the industry to look in the mirror.

What is clear is the initiative prompted reactions from the Washington Materials Management and Financing Authority (WMMFA), the group that works on behalf of product manufacturers to comply with the state’s electronics recycling law. Funded by electronics manufacturers, WMMFA chooses which e-scrap companies to hire.

The Department of Ecology has the power to decide which processors are part of the program. Seven processors are currently registered.

In response to the tracking study results, WMMFA sharply reduced the tonnages it allocated to Total Reclaim. John Friedrick, executive director of WMMFA, provided 2016 allocation data to E-Scrap News and other stakeholders. He also provided the numbers to the state Department of Ecology, which has yet to release the 2016 program report.

The data shows that in 2015, Total Reclaim managed 21.88 million pounds of electronics through WMMFA, or 51 percent of the weight coming through the E-Cycle Washington program. In 2016, that weight fell by nearly 8.8 million pounds, or 40 percent, leaving the company managing 35 percent of the weight through E-Cycle Washington.

Half of the e-scrap processors in the program saw weight allocation increases from 2015 to 2016. “We began gradually migrating volumes to other processors and actively seeking new processors in Washington State,” Friedrick said. “This began in late June as we were awaiting more definitive information.”

BAN said the tracking study also showed EWC Group and IMS, two other processors in the state program, had exported e-scrap, although IMS disputed the report’s findings. In 2016, IMS processed 36 percent less weight than the year before, but it also discontinued operations in Washington as of September, according to WMMFA data. EWC Group received 8 percent more pounds in 2016.

Possible changes coming to program

Rep. Peterson introduced House Bill 1824 in late January, and the legislation aimed to make several changes to the E-Cycle Washington program.

At that time, the bill required WMMFA to publicly disclose the rates it is paying collectors, transporters and processors. It also established a “two strikes, you’re out” rule, blacklisting for three years any e-scrap processor that twice violates program rules.

On March 28, a state Senate committee removed the pricing disclosure provision and made other changes to the legislation. However, it left intact the “two strikes” section, specifying that violations of rules on the export, disposal or storage of material would count as strikes.

The bill is now up for a possible vote by the full Senate. The House of Representatives passed an earlier version on March 1 in a 55-43 vote.

Total Reclaim’s Lorch said he felt the earlier version of the bill would have removed flexibility from the program.

“The changes that would have damaged the stewardship organization seem to be gone at this point,” he said.

Puckett, however, described the bill as gutted.

“It is clear that the manufacturers refuse to be transparent and this has been their position all over the country,” he said. “Yet these are state programs created by the public for the public. The manufacturers must allow for greater oversight to prevent the bad things we found happening from continuing.”

Lorch said the 40 percent drop in weight from 2015 to 2016 contributed to a reduction of staffing at his company.

“There’s been a considerable impact on us, no question about it,” Lorch said. “I don’t think anyone wants to see abrupt changes in the flow. You can make changes through attrition or gradual hiring if you’re picking up some or losing some, but to suddenly lose a lot of pounds is difficult.”



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