BAN Warns Of Increase In Illegal E-Waste Exports From US To Malaysia – OpEd


The waste trade watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN), which takes its name from the global Basel Convention on the Control of the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, is warning of what appears to be another wave of illegal e-waste trafficking that is now finding its way to Malaysia.

Investigations by BAN reveal a pathway of e-wastes from across the United States being exported primarily out of the port of Los Angeles on container ships to Malaysia. BAN has recently warned authorities in Malaysia of specific incoming shipments following a recent spate of raids in Malaysia, shutting down clandestine and illegal e-waste dismantling operations. It is illegal for Malaysia to receive any hazardous electronic waste from the US or other developed countries.

“As we have recently found with respect to plastic waste, Malaysia is becoming the target country of choice for illegal traders of e-waste from the US and Canada,” said BAN’s Executive Director Jim Puckett. “It is a shameful development, but it appears we are playing whack-a-mole – we have shut down exports to mainland China, then Hong Kong, and now they have turned to Southeast Asia as the electronics industry, rather than properly managing their wastes at home, seek out new global hiding places.”

  • The most recent of these raids took place on March 21 in Petaling Jaya where authorities found an e-waste break-down factory the size of five football fields hidden deep inside an oil palm estate , operating six kilometers from any main road. The site had been operational for five years. Police arrested 50 persons and seized many tonnes of electronic waste. The laborers from Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, and Nepal were believed to be illegal immigrants.
  • On March 19, in a similar raid near Port Klang, the Malaysian Immigration Department found another e-waste dismantling operation where the equivalent of about 105,000 US dollars in cash and arrested 48 persons including Board members, the director, and owner. The raid was conducted following complaints by members of the public. 38 of the labor force were Myanmar nationals and suspected of being illegal immigrants, and some were underage. The workers lived on the site.
  • On Feb 21, a raid on a clandestine factory at Sungai Linggi, Seremban, turned up another unregistered operation and an estimated 200 tonnes of e-waste, believed to have been shipped in from the United States and China via Port Klang, which was then seized by authorities. Officials said the entire operation was run illegally by Chinese nationals who had hired about 60 other foreigners, assumed to be illegal immigrants.

Just last week the latest publication of the Global e-Waste Monitor 2024 painted a gloomy picture of e-waste generation and management out of control. In 2022, the world generated an estimated 62 million metric tonnes of e-waste. This is enough to fill more than 1.5 million 40-metric-ton trucks which, if placed bumper-to-bumper, could form a line long enough to wrap around the world at the equator.

“To solve the e-waste crisis, we are going to have to demand more from electronics manufacturers,” said Puckett. “First, they must design their products for a long and toxic-free life. They must be fully upgradable, repairable and free of any chemicals which will cause harm at end-of-life. Second, they must take full responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products and not allow them to follow an economic pathway of least resistance to the poorest communities and laborers in the developing world.”

BAN has created a program of responsible recyclers called e-Stewards and urges the public to make use of these companies rather than risk their old computers and phones being dumped in developing countries.

Basel Action Network

Founded in 1997, the Basel Action Network is a 501(c)3 charitable organization of the United States, based in Seattle, WA. BAN is the world's only organization focused on confronting the global environmental justice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade and its devastating impacts.

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