Recycler hit with half-million-dollar fine after dumping electronic waste in Hong Kong

Sep 2, 2016

Tracked electronics meant to be recycled have ended up in Mexico, Taiwan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Dominican Republic, Canada and Kenya. Most often, though, they traveled across the Pacific to rural Hong Kong.
Credit KATIE CAMPBELL / EARTHFIX

The Washington Department of Ecology issued a $444,000 fine Thursday to Total Reclaim, the state’s largest electronic waste recycler.    

That follows an investigation by the Basel Action Network that was documented by EarthFix, which revealed that the company had been secretly sending TVs and other old electronics  across the Pacific to be dealt with in hazardous, open-air junk heaps in Hong Kong instead of dealing with the toxic waste at an approved facility in the United States — a condition of its certification as a green recycler. 

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Workers who processed the old monitors and TVs at those Hong Kong scrapyards may have been exposed to lead, mercury and other toxic components of old electronics.  

“This was an egregious violation of the public trust,” said Andrew Wineke, spokesperson for the Department of Ecology. “This was a respected recycling company that knew what it was doing was wrong.”    

The company has 30 days to pay the fine or appeal. The money will go into the state general fund.    

“Something like this is a wakeup call, and we’ve been talking with the electronic manufacturers association and recyclers to see what we can do to strengthen the system,” Wineke said. “We’re going to be keeping a close eye going forward.”   

Until its e-waste-dumping tactics were exposed, Total Reclaim accounted for more than 50 percent of all electronics recycling in Washington. Customers included the city of Seattle, King County, Boeing and the University of Washington. It was also one of the larger recyclers operating in Oregon.

Oregon regulators have asked the state Department of Justice to open an investigation into whether Total Reclaim violated consumer protection laws.

Total Reclaim has previously admitted to sending their e-waste to Hong Kong. The company declined to comment when contacted for this story.    

The company had been sending e-waste overseas for seven years, Ecology said. 

EarthFix is a public media partnership of Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, KLCC and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.