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BAN chief hits out at focus on recycling

BAN chief hits out at focus on recycling

November 23, 2020
James Langley

The executive director of the Basel Action Network (BAN) recently criticized proponents of the ‘circular economy’ for focusing on recycling and ignoring waste prevention

Jim Puckett suggested an emphasis on recycling within the circular economy had led to the export of hazardous waste from plastics and WEEE to developing countries, a process he termed “externalization”.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) discovered the Yian Hai Electric Co Ltd site near Sriracha, Thailand, contained electronic waste imported from Europe in 2018 (see main photo).

Puckett was speaking at the E-Waste World Virtual Summit on 18 November, which heard that a circular economy is based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

“If we really want a circular economy then we must insist that the circular economy prioritizes ‘turning off the tap’ and prevents the production of toxic, short-lived and wasteful products,” said Puckett.

“We must realize that externalization of costs competes with and undermines a true circular economy. We must know that an uneven market playing field prevents a circular economy. We must be aware that global inequity is real and creates a powerful driver for exploitation via externalities.”

BAN is a US non-profit organization aiming to prevent the export of hazardous waste from technology and other products from industrialized societies to developing countries.

Puckett referred to the three principles of the circular economy as outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which he described as “more than just recycling on steroids”.

The first of these principles, which he said “everyone seems to focus on right away”, is that resource yields should be optimized by circulating products, components and materials.

Puckett said the other two principles were frequently neglected. The first of these principles is to preserve and enhance natural capital, while the other is to reveal and design out negative externalities.

Puckett further identified three problems preventing the successful implementation of a circular economy. He said the Basel Convention had cited the circular economy to “promote a loophole” that enabled exporters to claim any WEEE as repairable and therefore non-waste. “This is a very dangerous loophole being promoted by manufacturers today,” he said.

He also said that in the recast of the waste shipment regulations he had heard some stakeholders argue that the regulations were outdated. The stakeholders had said the regulations “should be in alignment with the circular economy by allowing more waste trade to developing countries”, he said.

And, Puckett said that in the recent plastics listings adopted by the Basel Convention “the USA, Brazil, Argentina and the plastics industry all argued that controlling dirty and mixed plastic trade was counter to a circular economy”.

He added there were three drivers that led to waste being exported to developing countries. The first of these he termed the ‘Global Commons Syndrome’, whereby “good” laws governing what happens to the atmosphere and oceans were not in place.

Secondly, Puckett said there was a lack of democracy and empowerment allowing people to the right to “redress damage to them”. This damage includes toxic workplaces, labor abuse and environmental harm.

Puckett said the final driver was global inequity. He suggested this ensured cheap labor with a lack of safety nets and protections in weaker economies. “We are playing on a global uneven playing field,” he said.

This article is republished with kind permission of letsrecycle.com

E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2021 takes place on Tuesday 30 November and Wednesday 1 December at The Forum, Frankfurt, Germany – face to face and in person with beers, handshakes and the much-talked about nibbles. Registration for this highly focused, solutions-driven event will open in early 2021. For sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, please email peter@trans-globalevents.com

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