Why Does the U.S. Refuse to Ratify the Hazardous Waste Treaty?

Sunday, August 28, 2011
E-Waste in China (photo: Natalie Behring, Greenpeace)
Despite the prevalence of recycling programs throughout the country, the United States has been anything but “green” when it comes to disposing its old computers, cell phones and other electronics. The U.S. government has had two decades to become a party to the 1989 Convention of Basel, which regulates the international trade and dumping of hazardous waste, but still has not ratified the agreement.
President George H.W. Bush agreed to the signing of the Convention in 1990. However, of the 176 nations that signed the convention, only Afghanistan, Haiti and the United States have failed to ratify it.
Perhaps the decision has something to do with Americans leading the world in producing and exporting WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment). Every day, more than 100,000 computers are thrown out in the United States, and each year, Americans dispose of more than 100 million cell phones.
Some of this waste winds up in domestic garbage dumps, or with the 50 certified recyclers in North America.
But much of it is shipped overseas. The Basel Action Network (BAN), an American non-governmental organization that opposes the international trade of toxic waste, estimates that between 50 and 100 WEEE containers depart from the U.S. every day in route to Hong Kong, Asia’s principal port of entry. From there, the electronic refuse—containing lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, polyvinyl chlorides and other dangerous substances—gets dumped near poor communities, primarily in China, where residents struggle to deal with brain damage, kidney disease, mutations and cancer from exposure to the waste. The U.S. has also sent e-waste to Nigeria and Ghana.
A bipartisan group of members of Congress has introduced a bill, the Responsible Electronic Recycling Act, which would forbid U.S. companies from exporting toxic electronic waste to developing countries.
-Noel Brinkerhoff
E-Trash: Stemming the Tide of Global Trade of High-Tech Toxic Waste (by Gilles van Kote, Le Monde via Worldcrunch)
Basel Convention (Wikipedia)


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