800 797 5478

free quote

Episode 1 – Interview with Jim Puckett, Founder and Executive Director of the Basel Action Network

Responsible E-Waste Recycling – An Interview with Jim Puckett, Founder and Executive Director of the Basel Action Network



Steve Sidwell:

Hi, and welcome to The Tech Bench Podcast. The Tech Bench is an educational podcast that features interviews with experts in the IT industry and surrounding fields. Some of the topics that we will address this season are cloud infrastructure, e-waste regulation, data destruction, and diversity in tech. I’m Steve Sidwell, Liquid Technology’s Senior Vice President of Technology and Compliance. My cohost, James Patrignelli, will be joining us for most of the episodes. James is the Director of the Northeast Sales at Liquid Technology. Liquid Tech’s VP of Operations, Rob Ruehle, will be poking his head in the door in a couple of episodes. So look out for these special appearances. Seriously, Rob’s the man. We hope you enjoy our first season.

On this episode of The Tech Bench Podcast, we interviewed the outspoken Founder and Executive Director of the Basel Action Network, Jim Puckett. Jim has worked for decades in the fight against trading toxic waste. In this episode, he shares how he started in the e-waste industry, why e- steward is a superior standard and how BAN’s new initiative of using GPS trackers, is exposing fake recyclers and so much more. The day prior to this interview, Jim and a member of our team shared the stage at an interactive art exhibit called Disassembly Brooklyn. So when he mentioned yesterday, in specific conversations, that’s what he’s talking about. Details in the show notes, brace yourself. You’re now entering, The Tech Bench Podcast.

Jim Puckett:

Good afternoon. I’m Jim Puckett, I’m with the Basel Action Network, the founder and director of it. And we run the e-Stewards program for recyclers that do the right thing, ethical recyclers. And I’m happy to be here today to talk with Liquid Technology here in Brooklyn. And they’re going to hammer me with questions, I think.

James Patrignelli:

Well, Jim, thanks for coming. We appreciate it. Research shows that you worked at Greenpeace earlier in your career, how did that come about?

Jim Puckett:

Wow. So yeah, out of college, I wanted to make films and I wanted to fund my filmmaking habit, which was expensive at the time. So I started canvassing knocking on doors, for Greenpeace in the Seattle area. And very quickly, I saw what Greenpeace was doing and saw the potential of what they could do and started writing reports for them. And very quickly became a toxic campaigner, so working on pollution issues of all kinds. Then I read a book called Circle of Poison, which was about the U.S. manufacturing pesticides, which were illegal to use in the U.S. but they would then export them for use in developing countries. And that’s terrible.

 That’s really unethical and unfair and started working on that issue. And then I started thinking, “I wonder if we’re exporting toxic waste?” And that question has led me to this career of trying to stop people from dumping toxic waste on developing countries from the rich developed countries.

Rob Ruehle:

So is that what made you essentially transition from Greenpeace to go in and start the ban or?

Jim Puckett:

well, then I went to work for Greenpeace in Europe. They had a new campaign which was to try to stop what was a proliferating trade of waste. I just inquired about it before it really took off and became an epidemic. So there were a lot of countries in Europe, for example, chemical companies would just fill up boats with barrels of nasty stuff and send it to Africa. Waste-

Rob Ruehle:

Are these developed European countries?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah, like Italy.

Rob Ruehle:

Oh.

Fighting Toxic E-Waste

Jim Puckett:

And then in the U.S. we had Philadelphia, it took a whole boatload of incinerator ash on a ship called the Khian Sea and went down and dumped it in Haiti. And then it got stopped halfway through the unloading process and that boat started sailing around the world and trying to find a place to dump the rest of it. So a lot of high profile incidents were happening where we realized, wow, people are taking the path of least resistance, even if it was quite unethical, to get rid of their waste. Because it was getting more and more expensive to deal with it at home. Because we were passing laws to control just rampant dumping.

 So, that happened in the late 1980s. And then somebody said, “Hey, I got the bright idea, let’s make a treaty about this.” And so, I was with Greenpeace at the time, organizing the work on that treaty and trying to get a prohibition within the treaty, which became The Basel Convention, which is where we take our name, Basel Action Network. We’re trying to promote and implement this treaty, which was signed back in 1989.

Rob Ruehle:

So you were actually part of the framework and developing the treaty itself?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah. The early negotiations. The first signing of it, we were very disappointed because it was a very minimalist document. It just said, “You can go ahead and export your waste you just have to have a few signatures.” And we thought that was too weak and a lot of the developing countries felt the same. So we denounced it at that time in 1989. So we got to do better. We got to come back and fix this treaty. And the African group walked out. All the African countries said, “We’re not going to sign it, until we have something better.” And then they went back and made their own treaty in Africa.

 So a few years later, to make the long story a little shorter, we came back. And in 1992, a ban was considered. In 1994, it was adopted and in 1995, the convention said, “We’re going to make the treaty have this ban within it as an amendment.” So we’re still working right now, we’re going to get three more countries to make this ban amendment part of the international law. And I think it’s going to happen within eight months.

James Patrignelli:

So all in all, how many countries would that be that are on board with this?

Jim Puckett:

Well, there’s so many countries, almost the whole world, except for the U.S. is part of the Basel Convention itself. The actual countries that have signed on, I think we have 83 for the ban amendment. To make it an amendment, we need 86, I believe. So, we’re very close. And as you’ve probably been witnessing in the news, with China blocking the imports of all kinds of waste, including electronic waste, the businessmen there have tried to relocate it to Southeast Asia. And a lot of these Southeast Asian countries like Thailand are saying, “No way.” So they’re actually saying, “We’re going to ban it.” So I think those countries will ratify the ban amendment if

Rob Ruehle

Has China signed it?

Jim Puckett:

China’s ratified the ban amendment. Yeah.

Rob Ruehle:

So ridiculous.

Jim Puckett:

They kept letting waste in, it was like, they didn’t want to look at it. And it was, they were in denial and their customs let it come in. But they had technically banned the import.

Rob Ruehle

Got it.

Jim Puckett:

Legally.

Rob Ruehle:

So the point of the Basel Action Network then is to essentially promote the tree?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah. And the principles of it. So we don’t just work legally we were working on the whole concept and that’s why in the United States, where they’re not even a party, we’re doing most of our work, trying to solve the problem here. Because, as you know, so many of your competitors, this is how they make their profits as, by exporting rather than properly recycling it. And it does get recycled in a very dirty way.

Rob Ruehle:

Sure.

Jim Puckett:

Recycling is not always benign, unfortunately, but they use that word to say, “Don’t worry, don’t worry. It’s going to be recycled. Just, don’t go and look at what it looks like.” And we’ve made a career of going to look at what that recycling looks like and trying to show people that it’s really problematic.

Rob Ruehle:

Sure. So, I guess if you want to go right into that, was it … It was through Basel Action Network, now used to it right? Where you actually traveled to some of these places?

Jim Puckett:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Rob Ruehle:

I guess you want to tell us a little about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen.

The Real Global Effects of Toxic E-Waste Recycling

Jim Puckett:

Well, the thing that really sent shockwaves around the world and the industry in particular, was when we went to China. We wanted to know where this stuff was going, what the so called recycling looked like. And we went to this little, a township area called Guiyu, which is in Guangdong province, and my God, what an eye opener it was. We saw just mountains of waste, of electronic waste. And it was coming in constantly, truckload after truckload unloaded on the streets. And the stuff was broken apart by hand. And the circuit boards were cooked, releasing all kinds of tan and led fume, which is very toxic. A lot of the chips that were cooked off of these circuit boards, were then thrown in acid baths. And the fumes off of that were also toxic.

That we’d learned that the groundwater was completely destroyed. They’d been doing this now for about eight years before we got there and already it had ruined the groundwater. They couldn’t make tea or anything with it. But the sheer volume of it all, the numbers of people that were working by hand, trying to rip this stuff apart in really crude, dirty fashion, was what we documented, and to produced the film, Exporting Harm and a report by the same name. And ever since then, we have been trying to wake the world up about, “This is not the way to handle electronic waste.” But because of the profits that could be made and because the smugglers are already very active in China, and primarily because it was completely legal for Americans to export this material, unlike in Europe, where they had banned the export, it just was flowing and flowing and flowing. And massive shipments went off our West Coast into, Chinese ports, mostly Hong Kong.

And Hong Kong had been in the smuggling business for centuries. And it was a well greased road to bring things into that port and bring them up to this area of Hong Kong called New Territories region, load them onto smaller trucks and drive them. Bribes paid at the border into this Guiyu area and it was just a massive flow. And nobody in America really knew about it, very few people. So we put that out there first in the New York Times and a lot of media outlets since then have picked up on it. At last, a lot of scientists have gone to that area since then and documented some of the most horrific contamination that’s ever been documented for organic compounds like dioxins and heavy metal contamination. They tested the blood of the children there, and it’s just some of the highest levels ever.

 So a nightmare, and ever since then, we’ve been doing everything we can to try to get, particularly the United States to wake up and stop this.

Rob Ruehle:

Is that what kind of led to the creation of e-Stewards then? The-

E-Stewards vs R2 Certifications

Jim Puckett:

Exactly. So normally, if you want to stop something bad, you say, “We got to pass a law, right? There ought to be a law.” So we tried that. Even 10 years ago, our Congress was dysfunctional, now it’s even more so. So laws were not going to happen, I saw it. And also the States are not allowed to affect foreign trade by our constitution. There’s a commerce clause that States aren’t allowed to touch foreign trade. So we couldn’t pass State laws. So we went to the market and we said, “We need a market solution here if we’re going to direct consumers that want to do the right thing and large businesses that want to do the right thing to the good guys. To the recyclers that are going to sign up and willing to be certified to not export and to handle all the toxics very carefully and handle the data very carefully.”

So we intended to make a high bar standard. Initially, we went out and worked with the EPA to create R-2, another standard. And we worked really hard on that. It was a multi-stakeholder project. We were told by the EPA that one of the principles going in is that, we at least wouldn’t violate other country’s laws with our exports. And so we thought that’s pretty good because, actually they’re not allowed to receive waste from the United States, because the United States is not a party to this treaty. So we worked on R-2 and at the very last moments, they reneged on that agreement and said, “Well, we’re not going to worry about international law. We’re just going to create the standard.” And all those NGOs that were part of it, decided to walk out after being encouraged to walk out by some of the leaders in the industry. They said, “This isn’t good enough, you should make your own standard.”

So that’s what we did. And that’s what e-Stewards is. So when Samsung said last night, “All certifications are not the same,” is very true. Unfortunately, the EPA treats them like they’re equal. And that’s a problem for us to explain to people, “No, they’re not equal, e-Stewards exist because of the weaknesses of R-2.”

Rob Ruehle:

Sure. And I think as a company, we felt that, certainly the e-Stewards, to become one is a much more stringent process. I mean, we’re both R-2 in e-Steward, but the R-2 is kind of an add-on, because we already, by being e-Steward, you kind of include it in these R-2, anyway. So, I mean, from a company’s perspective, we can definitely attest to it being more difficult and more rigorous standard. And certainly, the audits are more difficult and all that stuff. So you started e-Stewards and then you’ve had a couple of large projects since. I guess, why don’t you tell us about Monitour and the tracking project?

Jim Puckett:

Oh, yeah. So it’s Monitour, it’s what MIT like to call it. We like to call it e-Trash Transparency Project, but it’s the same project. And we worked with MIT to develop the technology for it. But we were hearing all these studies and certain business associates who were saying, “Oh, the problem of export is not so bad. We fixed it. It’s not as bad as when BAN first went there in 2001 and documented Exporting Harm. So it’s not to worry.” And we felt otherwise, because we were going and looking at China still and Hong Kong in particular at that point.

So we said, “Well, let’s really get some real data.” Because they had been basing their studies on just extrapolating trade data of things that weren’t even waste. So they are really making leaps of faith in terms of trying to study the trade. And we said, “No, either you’re going to get people in the port to really see it, or we’re going to monitor real waste in real time. And we’re going to do that with GPS trackers.” And we went to a stakeholder meeting that EPA sponsored and all of these people came to the meeting and they voted on the best way to trace and track flows of e-waste. And they voted that GPS was the best way to go, using little trackers in the e-waste.

But the government decided not to do it that way and to use surveys to the industry that anybody could just make up things and, we didn’t get good data in the end. So I thought, if only we could get the funding to do it ourselves, it’s a little bit expensive. And then the Body Shop Foundation came through for us, and we got a big chunk of money to do this project. And we put 205 trackers out over the U.S. 40% of them that we delivered to recyclers, went right over to Hong Kong most to them. Some of them went to Pakistan and other places, but the lion’s share was still following the pathway into China. And so, we blew the whistle on that. We had real data, we could show which recyclers were involved. We printed all the names, even risking being sued by people for liable or whatever.

 We just said, “We’re going to put it all out there. We can back it up. We have all the data, we have all the ping points from the GPS as we have the videos we shot when we deployed them. Every one of these.” So we put that out there and it reminded people that, “Yeah, we still have a problem.” And we were more of we were able to go and actually see the places where they were processing it and show people how it was being done. And the worst thing that was being done, and this was two years ago, was the mercury backlights of the monitors, were just being smashed in front of these poor workers that had no idea they were breathing mercury all day long.

Rob Ruehle:

Oh, jeez.

Jim Puckett:

I’m just like going, “Oh my God.” But you could see these tiny little fluorescent tubes that are just being broken right in front of them. And that was probably the most serious immediate hazard. Although, a lot of the stuff was just permeating into the outskirts of Hong Kong. They were dumping things that were difficult to recycle in empty lots and that’s where they grow their food in Hong Kong. And all the truck farms and pig farms are up in this area. So we documented that. And now, Hong Kong, as a result of that, we put out media there and PBS ran a story here in the U.S. But as a result of the media, that we did in Hong Kong, the government there finally said, “Okay, we have to get tough on these little electronic junk yards that were just, they were small, I say little, but there were hundreds of them. And they were just processing this stuff in huge volume, really high throughput.

So they’re going to make it really difficult as the end of this year. Starting next year, it’s going to be almost impossible for those people to get a permit to operate. So they’re going to leave and the handwriting’s on the wall already. So these Chinese businessmen, what do they do though? They don’t give up, they have moved their operations down to Southeast Asia. How do we know? The trackers. So the trackers will even go to Hong Kong and then we’ll see them popping up in Thailand. So recently, we’ve been to Thailand to show what’s happening there. And in a way, it is worse than what was in Hong Kong because they’re doing very primitive smelting. And again, resuming the chemical operations. But doing it at a scale that’s more intensive than what was happening in Guiyu.

 So large factories but, even though they’re large and you can call them factories, very primitive technology. Just, cooking circuit boards in mass, getting the copper out they can, using acids, again, to try to strip the chips. And all the fallout from this smoke is going into dairy farms and such around the area. So Thailand has, as I mentioned earlier, taken some steps and I’m really impressed. The government there has just said, “We’ve had enough of this.” Because they were springing up all over and people took action. So Thailand, as of two weeks ago, they banned the import of plastic waste and electronic waste.

Rob Ruehle:

That’s great that they were able to act so quickly. I guess, now the question is, I guess, well, I’m sure you’ll say the trackers will tell us, but where do you think the next place will be, where all this is going to go?

Jim Puckett:

That is a good question. So I’m fearful, it’s going to be Africa. I think they can, the Chinese have made a lot of inroads in Africa already. A lot of businessmen are already there. And people are desperate for money and there’s corruption as well. So that’s my fear, but we’ll hopefully know about it because of these GPS trackers.

James Patrignelli:

So the companies that you did identify as exporting, did they fight you on this or did they know their dead to rights based on this tracking?

Jim Puckett:

Well, they tried to put up some weak arguments. And the most common one was, “Oh, you didn’t really track waste, your tracker must’ve come loose. And it was in a bale of plastic.” Well, Hong Kong doesn’t import plastic. Anyway, we had this one excuse from a Seattle recycler and I was going to Hong Kong with PBS, so I just kept quiet about it. I said, “Send me the information of where you think you sent these plastic bales.” Anyway, I had the data of where their stuff went in Hong Kong. So I went there and I found the Gaylords full of their material with their labels on them. Earth Day Label, Total Reclaim, this is a company in Seattle. And so, they had to admit it. And it was on PBS. It was going to be put on national news. I actually negotiated that their name wouldn’t appear on national news, but they would have to leave our program e-Steward.

So they were an e-Steward’s company that had lied to us. So they signed a statement that said, “Yes, we lied, and we are in agreement that will be out of the e-Stewards Program.” So that was just the least of their troubles. So they’re now under half a million dollars in fines from the State of Washington, because what we discovered and the federal government is going after them now for fraud. So hopefully it’s a good example. I don’t know why they did it. Thought they could get away with it, a sad chapter in the history of e-Stewards. But what it did for us is, “Oh my God, the audits are not enough.” People can cheat with audits because they know you’re coming and they can keep double books.”

And so now, all e-Stewards companies, have agreed, yours included, to let those trackers fly. We’re happy to be tracked. And so, we put out trackers routinely in our own streams of our own e-Stewards. And now we’re trying to get other companies, larger companies to use these trackers. And we have an EarthEye Program. We call it Branded EarthEye. So you can go to eartheye.org. And any company that’s e-Stewards and a recycler or any company that’s not a recycler, can do this tracking. And we helped you figure that out and use our technology that we’ve developed.

Rob Ruehle:

Now. One of the companies that you had identified that was improperly recycling based upon the tracking devices was Dell. I believe through their partnership with the Goodwill. And I know that they’re now a big proponent of the EarthEye project and helping you out there. What exactly, I guess, can you shed some light on the story of how that came about?

Helping Dell Become a Responsible Recycler

Jim Puckett:

Yeah. Cool story. So we caught them out and they said, “Wow.” They said, “We have to do a better.” And so, I proposed to them, “Why don’t we work together on this? Let’s eliminate out of this lemon.” And they said, “Sure.” And so, we then put together a partnership where we would track their stuff, help them … They wanted to do their own trackers as well, and they wanted to use ours. They’re really into it now. Because some of their environmental partners, their recyclers, were just lying to them and not fulfilling the contracts. And they were shocked. These were through their Goodwill program. So the consumer would take things to Goodwill, Goodwill was supposed to give them over to an environmental partner or recycler. And in that pathway, they went flying to Hong Kong.

 And so, I’d go to Hong Kong and I’d stand there and say, “This is where the Goodwill Dell tracker went,” and we did a separate report on that called Disconnect because the program they had was called Reconnect. And we thought, “There’s something wrong with this picture here. We have a Disconnect. You’re saying you’re doing the right thing.” And ironically, we had worked with Dell. The guy you saw last night, Mark Newton, who now works with Samsung, he worked with Dell at that time and I’d worked with him to develop the first manufacturer agreement, never to export. So they had their own standard on export that said, “If it’s not fully functional, you can’t export it.” That was a pretty high, good standard and we were very pleased they did that.

And then later after many years, we caught them out doing this with Goodwill program. But, it’s had a good results in the end because Dell was really on board and helped us launch this EarthEye Program.

Rob Ruehle:

Are there other OEMs that have been helpful? Obviously, seems like Dell really does care and they’ve obviously put their money where their mouth is and supported you. But, were there other … To me, I would think a company like Apple, with the amount of iPhones that are coming out every year and constantly being upgraded. Are there other companies that you’ve worked with or have anyone reach out to you to try to partner with?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah, well, you know that in our e-Stewards Program we have e-Stewards recyclers and we have e-Stewards enterprises that are using e-Stewards recyclers. So our enterprises that have signed with us are LG and Samsung, the Koreans, both of those companies are very keen to use our trackers. I’m not going to elaborate on that, but they are onboard with it. Then there’s other companies that don’t want to be named, very large retailers that are using our trackers to do this program. And it’s really interesting. They’re getting surprised just like Dell did. People will say, “Oh, it’s all good, just give it to us.” And then they have brokers that take it off, and you never … Those large companies don’t know where it ends up. They don’t have any idea that their environmental partners are using brokers. That things just disappear. But the trackers don’t lie. I call them our little lie detectors. They don’t have false positives.

You see a ping in Hong Kong, it’s in Hong Kong. Nobody took it there on an airplane and placed it there.

Rob Ruehle:

Sure.

Jim Puckett:

You have a really good idea that that’s where it ended up and it is eye opening.

James Patrignelli:

Are there other things that OEMs corporations can be doing to make sure that your waste is being recycled properly?

Jim Puckett:

Well, if I were them, I would have my own standard and my own audits, and a lot of them do that, you know that. But also to use the standard e-Stewards because it’s part of growing a movement. Even if they think they have a better standard and a better auditor, we need to spread the word about doing the right thing and that’s what the e-Stewards movement’s all about. So we encourage all the OEMs to become e-Stewards enterprises. I’m hoping they will, sooner or later, realize that, almost everybody’s R2 now, where we still have a problem. And why is that? R2 tool is very weak. They don’t even mention the Basel Convention anywhere in the text of the standard.

So the Basel Convention really is the rules of the road for trade and waste. And to put your head in the sand about it, it’s making a big mistake.

Rob Ruehle:

You mentioned R2 now, there’s a lot of international R2 companies. However, there are not very many or, I’m not sure of the top of my head, I believe there’s maybe a couple of Mexico that are e-Stewards. I know there was one in the U.K. I’m not sure … One in the U.K.

Jim Puckett:

We still have one in the U.K and one in Singapore, but, a few in Canada.

Rob Ruehle:

Are you looking to expand that to more of a global network or I guess, tell us your future kind of expansion for worldwide for e-Stewards?

Expanding E-Stewards Certification for Responsible E-Waste Recycling

Jim Puckett:

Yeah, we would love to. We suffer again from the notion of false equivalency. And so, when people, anywhere in the world say, “Oh, people are wanting us to be certified.” And people are saying that, “You can either be R2 or e-Stewards or something else,” they look for the cheapest price to check that box. It’s going to be with awareness that people realize, and it’s starting to happen again in this country, when everybody is R2, basically. And we still have a problem that, all standards are not the same. And so, we have a bit of a hurdle there because people are going, “Oh, we just have to check the certification box,”  and R2 is a lot cheaper to do. It’s a 15 page standard, I believe, and ours is just like 50, 60 pages.

 And then those pages, are closing loopholes and closing ambiguities, especially on the export issue. And unfortunately, the R2 standard just keeps things way too loosey goosey, so people can exploit it. But we are, I just got a letter today that a Swedish company wants to be e-Stewards, so we are open to-

Rob Ruehle:

That’s great.

Jim Puckett:

… to more and more.

Rob Ruehle:

Certainly as an e-Steward, it’s sometimes challenging when you’re looking to do work overseas and the the partners aren’t there. So it would be great if there would be more people obviously on board.

Jim Puckett:

Well, one thing we’ve got in our program that is a huge advantage is our enterprise program. And I was speaking with LG just yesterday and they’re a global enterprise. So they say, “We have to do a better job in telling our recyclers abroad, that they have to be e-Stewards.” So they’re going to do that. That’s the way we can really spread this thing, is when the large companies tell their vendors, “You got to be e-Stewards.” And they will be. If you have a large client like LG or Samsung, let them that.

Rob Ruehle:

Sure. And we see it with contracts for potential clients, we’ve definitely have seen contracts where you have to be an e-Steward. And we love that because that gives us an edge over a lot of companies.

Jim Puckett:

And we don’t even know who a lot of those companies are, we find out accidentally. So there’s the ones that want to sign up with us and there’s ones that just want to have the quiet policy of e-Stewards only. We know about those as well, but I’m sure wish they’d sign up so we could spread the word a little more.

James Patrignelli:

Overall, how would you say America is doing with e-waste?

America’s E-Waste Problem

Jim Puckett:

Terrible. Terrible. It’s so little that actually really gets turned back into commodities. I mean, you guys are doing the first and right thing, which is to repurpose it and get it out there, reusing it again. At a certain point though, too much of it gets swept to the global South. So when it really loses its value in the North, people ship it to the developing countries, which you would think, “That’s okay because they’re going to get some value out of it. They’ll some jobs and things,” but it’s really not when you’re talking about toxic materials. And it’s also not, when you think about, “Well, we don’t want to lose the value of those metals and things.”

 And the problem in the global South is, yeah, they’re really good at repairing things and get another life out of it, perhaps. But then, it gets into the marketplace and they can’t use the parts anymore. And then it goes into all kinds of dumps and they’re everywhere. And you can never get that copper and that gold or rare earth metals back. And you’ll never get the toxics out of the ground. Or these landfills in Africa are typically burned. It’s very traditional to burn waste all over the world, and that’s what happens. It’s all this circuitry and such, eventually it gets burned and we’re sweeping all this problem as well as good resources to the global South, where they don’t have the infrastructure to collect it and bring it back into the system.

So Umicore has estimated we have less than 5% of mobile phones from mobile phones. The metals are even coming back into the system. So when you think you’re only really recycling less than 5%, that’s not good. And the U.S. is in that same category. And the other problem with the U.S. of course, is we’re the only developed country in the world that hasn’t ratified the Basel Convention. So this great ease of exploiting free trade and saying, “I’m just going to get rid of our problems, instead of deal with them properly,” is legal here. The only way you can go after people nowadays is through fraud law. That’s what the federal government’s doing with this company in Seattle.

They don’t like the export, but they don’t have the environmental laws to stop it, like Europe does. And so much of the rest of the world, they don’t have the Basel Convention. So they go to those companies that are saying they’re going to do one thing and do another, that’s basic fraud, right? They’re telling the governments of the cities and counties and States that they’re going to never export, and then they do. So they’re getting them on fraud. I’m happy that they’re getting them on something that they care about this issue. And it’s the Homeland Security and the EPA enforcement teams that are doing the work

James Patrignelli:

It’s like Al Capone on taxes instead of on that.

Jim Puckett:

Yeah. That’s how they got Al Capone.

Jim Puckett:

Exactly. But I wish we had those environmental laws, but don’t hold your breath.

Steve Sidwell:

So obviously the U.S. is not doing a good job. Is there a country that is doing a excellent job or a model country that maybe we should try to look at and see how they’re doing so well?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah. As you can imagine, they’re in Europe. Switzerland, really excellent, Sweden, Denmark, those countries we can look to. One of the sad things is the U.S. used to be leaders in environment in the seventies and the early eighties. We had legislation that Europe never had. And we’re ahead of the game on this issue, the Resource Conservation Recovery Act was actually a real pioneering piece of legislation. And now, we’re not the leaders in Europe is the leaders, but it can change. I have to remind people that we used to be leaders, we used to sign treaties. Last night, I think, Stephanie of APA said, “U.S. never signs treaties.” I said, “You’re showing how young you are.” Because it was until about 25 years ago that we stopped signing environmental treaties and being a player on the global stage and a leader.

Upcoming Challenges of E-Waste Recycling

James Patrignelli:

So as technology changes pretty rapidly right now, what challenges do you see in the next five to 10 years?

Jim Puckett:

Wow. The value of e-waste of the scrap is going down. And yet at the same time, circuitry is proliferating and everything, right?

James Patrignelli:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jim Puckett:

So you’re going to have little circuits in furniture and clothing, how are you going to collect that? And is anybody going to care enough to collect it? Because it’s maybe not valuable enough. And yet, we’re going to have all this waste building up and it has copper in it and has commodity value that will just be diffused and lost. So these are some of the challenges. Will there be laws that require collection of electronics, even if the commodity value is not there? I sure hope so, because otherwise we’re just going to trash this planet. I hope also that we get the toxics out, but that doesn’t seem to be the prime objective of the manufacturers.

I think it should be the very first criteria is we will make everything nontoxic, because you cannot control what happens in developing countries, and that’s where it all ends up. It’s going to be burned down there. So let’s make things, make sure that when they’re burned, they’re not going to create dioxins and things. So I hope that’s where it’s going. It’s hard to predict exactly how those kinds of new trends that you can see happening are going to play out. I hope they play out in a good way. We’re seeing now that, more and more countries are starting to ban the import of waste. So the concept of the Basel Convention is becoming real, which was, that countries should be self-sufficient with their own waste management. Otherwise, it’s going to be too easy to just exploit other countries that have weaker enforcement, weaker laws, weaker safety nets, so-called pollution havens.

I’m hoping that more and more countries will say, “Nope, trans boundary movement of waste, particularly hazardous waste, is a bad idea. We should avoid it. If you’re moving the waste to have a better system, that’s one thing, but almost always trade moves to a lesser standard, less quality care. So if you’re internalizing costs, you’re actually gonna pay more in the long run for how you’re handling waste. That’s a good reason to move waste across the border. You’re going to do something better with it. But if you’re externalizing your costs, making other people pay what should be a real fee or a real cost for polluting or damaging the environment, making other people pay for it with their health, that is not okay. That was really the intent of the Basel Convention to prevent the externalization, the gross egregious externalization of costs and harm to weaker economies.

And by doing that, you not only poison people, but it’s really a dumb way to handle waste because you’re going to lose all its resources. You don’t bring it back in a circular economy. You don’t develop, you have no incentive to develop cleaner technologies, get rid of toxic. So you lose all that incentive if you’re just going to dump it on somebody.

James Patrignelli:

Can Apple actually make a toxin free iPhone or contends on it being toxin free?

Jim Puckett:

They can.

James Patrignelli:

Can Samsung make a toxin free TV?].

Jim Puckett:

They can.

James Patrignelli:

What’s the price differences per unit?

Jim Puckett:

Well, that’s a good one, but I’ve mailed the guy that is the world expert on design of electronics. This guy named Robert Pfahl, is from a group called INEMI. And I asked him several years ago, I had him at a conference. I cornered him, I said, “Can we make a toxic free computer?” And he said, “Yeah, we can absolutely do it.” And he said it back then. He said, “We could do it by 2015.” So we passed that date and he said, “We just have to be pushed. We have the technology. It’ll cost a little more, but we can do it.” And one time I was with Nokia when they were still a big company, and they said, “Hey, come over here.” And they took me back in Finland their headquarters. They said, “See this bone, it’s no heavy metals, no brominated flame retardants, there’s nothing in it that’s toxic.” I said, “Great, let’s advertise it.” And they go, “No, no, no.”

And they didn’t want anybody to know about it. And I thought, “What’s with this?” And I realized later that, they’re afraid to say, “We have a toxic free phone,” until all their skews, all of their different types of phones they can say the same thing. And they weren’t willing to make that plunge because they don’t want to scare people that, if this is toxic free, that means the other ones are full of toxics. And they don’t want people to know that. So they keep it really quiet and they just research it in the back rooms, but they can do it. And I think the consumers, if you had a whole company say, “Okay, we passed the threshold, no heavy metals, no brominated flame retardants. These are toxic free phones or toxic free computers,” I think the public would go for it. But nobody’s taken that plunge yet, even though they’re there and they can really do it.

And then you guys. You guys, I know this Liquid Technology mostly deals with asset recovery and the keeping things whole and reuse it. Everybody has to deal with scrap somewhat, right? And then you have this liability, “Oh my God, my scrap has lead in it. It’s going to cost me more to deal with it.” Recyclers get the brunt of the problem. If they only didn’t have to deal with all this toxicity, it’d be just a matter of commodities. It’d be a lot easier for everyone and especially the developing world, because that’s where it all gets swept to eventually.

A New Solution for Tracking E-Waste Recycling Efforts

Rob Ruehle:

What are you working on next? I know you mentioned you have some tracking devices that are out that keep you busy every morning, checking them. But is there any other big projects in the works?

Jim Puckett:

Yeah, but I can’t be too revealing about it, but stay tuned. We are doing more tracking. We’re trying to get people to focus on data security as well, because it’s part of the package of being responsible. And more and more, this is what some companies care about, even more than the environment, is just keeping their data from giving them liabilities. So we’re trying to develop our standard to be a one stop shop and be the highest bar for data security and environment. So that’s some of the ways we’re starting to redirect our focus. Again, it’s all about getting people to use the good guys and thanks for being good guys.

Rob Ruehele:

Well, Jim, thank you very much for coming in today. Really appreciate it. I think it was a very informative conversation, now, hopefully our audience appreciates it. And thank you very much.

Jim Puckett:

You’re very welcome.

Steve Sidwell:

Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Tech Bench Podcast. In our next episode, we’re going to be speaking with Data Center and Cloud Infrastructure expert, Colin Gribbin. If you enjoyed this episode, please make sure to subscribe and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook at LTTB podcast. If you have any questions, comments, or show ideas, please feel free to email us at techbench@liquidtechnology.net. For show notes, visit liquidtechnology.net/techbench.

GET A FREE QUOTE



Looking for an e-Waste Recycler?


As one of the industry’s leading IT asset disposition service providers, Liquid Technology provides a suite of effective impartial solutions. Discover what to look for in a quality e-waste recycler.