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Position Statement for Basel Convention by ITIC and RLA

Position Statement for Basel Convention by ITIC and RLA

by Rick Goss, SVP Environment and Sustainability, ITIC

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 63

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MAY 15, 2014

Overview. Under the auspices of the Basel Convention – a global treaty designed to regulate cross-border movements of hazardous wastes – 180 global governments are in the advanced stages of negotiating interpretive guidelines that threaten to restrict and control trade in most used electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). While the objective of this initiative is significant – to stem the serious human health and environmental impacts that result from the illicit global trade in “e-waste” – numerous developing country governments, joined by the environmental activist community, are pushing to classify all used EEE devices and components destined for repair, refurbishment and reuse as “hazardous wastes.” The only acknowledged “exception” to this proposed approach would be for used equipment that is individually tested and determined to be fully functional prior to export.

Should this approach prevail, it would compel global industry to completely revamp legitimate product logistics systems, including those for asset recovery, warranty repair, service contracts, and routine repair and refurbishment operations. Used equipment classified as “hazardous waste” would be subject to numerous trade bans, or stringent notice, consent, tracking and other requirements that can be expected to impose significant new compliance and logistical costs. The collective costs to aerospace, automotive, heavy industry, high tech and electronics and other global sectors would be astronomical, and would do little to address the actual challenge of illicit e-waste shipments. Since 2006, the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) has led private sector engagement in the Basel Convention negotiations on electronics on behalf of our high tech and electronics membership. ITI is advancing an approach that would allow legitimate shipments for reuse, repair and refurbishment to continue provided appropriate documentation and other assurances are demonstrated.

Summary. The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is designed to control and restrict the movement of hazardous wastes across international borders. Governments negotiated the treaty to address the widespread practice of advanced economies “trading” hazardous wastes to poorer, less-developed countries in order to avoid strict and costly domestic environmental management regulations.

At its heart, the Basel Convention is a waste control treaty crafted to address the complex issues involving hazardous wastes generated in one country and exported for recycling or disposal in another. Basel approval procedures involve a bureaucratic and often lengthy government-to-government notice and consent process. While Basel does not currently ban the shipment of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries, a pending amendment (not yet in force) may ban all such shipments in the future.

In 2006, Parties to the Basel Convention launched an initiative on EEE. These governments are now at a critical stage of drafting Technical Guidelines on Transboundary Movements of Electronic and Electrical Waste (E-waste), in Particular Regarding the Distinction Between Waste and Non-waste (Guidelines). The Guidelines are intended to inform the approach governments will take toward expanded regulation of international movements of used and end-of-life EEE. The Guidelines will also define the universe of used EEE that governments are to consider “hazardous wastes” for purposes of the Convention and its strict trade controls.

The practical implications of a decision by the Basel Parties to expand the Convention’s reach to include used EEE as waste are significant and include: substantial increases in operational, shipping and compliance costs; new trade and logistical barriers leading to substantial delays; and, decreased revenue from the resale of used equipment and components. Government-to-government notice and consent processes governing hazardous waste shipments can take months to complete, leading to significant asset depreciation costs of 2% or more per month. Additionally, industry estimates that shipping used EEE as non-hazardous waste versus used product increases transport costs by 15-20%; shipment as hazardous waste increases transport costs by 300%. The cumulative costs to impacted global industries would easily reach into the billions of dollars. Such an outcome will discourage current re-use and repair activities.

Information Technology Sector Position. The tech sector strongly supports the important work of governments and stakeholders to improve the collection and environmentally sound recycling of end-of-life equipment. Our members are encouraged by the recent progress made in the negotiations toward the development of criteria and assurances for distinguishing legitimate shipments of used goods for reuse (e.g., warranty returns, shipments for repair or root cause analysis and lease returns) from shipments of “e-waste” that is improperly claimed to be non-waste.

The IT sector collectively requests that governments support mechanisms that would enhance the Convention’s controls over actual “e-waste” while avoiding new approaches that threaten to disrupt environmentally sound and economically beneficial trade flows in used equipment and parts destined for legitimate repair, refurbishment and reuse.

Key Points

The IT sector continues to view legitimate repair, refurbishment and reuse of equipment and parts as critical to reducing the generation of e-waste, conserving material resources and expanding the ability of all global communities to access information and communications technology and needed medical equipment.

Governments should ensure that the Guidelines make clear that used equipment and parts managed for continued use are not “wastes” that may be subject to the Convention’s controls and trade bans. We are confident that assurance mechanisms in the form of documentation, transparency, and packaging can distinguish legitimate shipments for reuse from illicit shipments of e-waste.

We continue to view the following legitimate operations as the movement of product (e.g., non-wastes) that should remain outside any Convention restrictions that may be placed on e-waste:

• Warranty Returns (both customer-to-business and business-to-business warranty returns)
• Shipments of Used Equipment for Refurbishment and Repair
• Exports for Root Cause Analysis
• Exports of Equipment under Lease
• Intra-company Transfers of Used EEE

Conclusion. The tech sector urges the Parties to continue working toward the development of Guidelines that will ensure the environmentally sound management of used e-waste while also promoting a common understanding among governments that products shipped, for example, for legitimate servicing, refurbishment, repair and reuse are not wastes. Appropriate documentation and other assurances are sufficient to verify that used equipment exported for repair and reuse is not e-waste destined for recycling or disposal.
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