A recent landmark case involving a Seattle-based scrap processor examined their practices and claims with regard to the company’s dealings with Hong Kong. Specifically, the charges looked at their export of LCD flat-screen devices to Hong Kong as well as misleading/fraudulent claims they made with regard to how they process e-waste.

In mid-November, the owners of the company were charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both parties entered a guilty plea and are expected to be sentenced in March of 2019. The felony charges have a potential penalty of up to five years in prison. The pair has already been ordered to pay $1.1 million in restitution, an agreement that was negotiated in a plea bargain.

What actually happened?

The charges alleged that Total Reclaim misled their customers by giving them false information as to how these LCD units were being handled and disposed of. The claims that came into question were to the effect that the monitors were being dismantled and disposed of within the United States, adhering to environmental best practices.

The deception was that, actually, the company had sold the units to a third-party who intended to export them to Hong Kong, where the products were broken down in such a way that it was found to present significant safety risks, both to workers and to the environment.

The year-long investigation, conducted by industry watchdog Basel Action Network (BAN), found that Total Reclaim shipped about 8.3 million pounds of LCDs to Hong Kong between 2008 and 2015. The company received these units from their customers, who had paid Total Reclaim a fee to have them disposed of both domestically and safely, according to environmental health and safety standards.

Their actions are in violation of the e-Stewards Certification Standard, which is overseen by BAN. As a result of their findings and the subsequent criminal charges, Total Reclaim has had their e-Steward certification suspended for two years.

What this means for the rest of the recycling community

It is hoped that the BAN investigation and the ensuing charges will send a strong message throughout the entire industry that unethical practices in recycling will not be tolerated.

In addition to the court-mandated restitution, the company has been fined almost half a million dollars by the Washington Department of Ecology. That fine is currently under appeal, though the process is ongoing. The company also faces fines from Oregon regulators, who charge that Total Reclaim exported the LCD devices without proper hazardous waste labeling. The state of Washington fined them a second time for infractions related to device storage that, in their eyes, amounted to “speculative accumulation”, meaning that they were stockpiling the LCDs when they should have been disposing of them in a legally and ecologically acceptable manner.

The owners of the company, in response, have stated their view that the laws with regard to hazardous waste storage, labeling, and transportation, should they be interpreted to the letter, could be crippling for many companies.

The fact of the matter is, electronic devices such as LCD screens contain mercury. As such, they can present serious health and environmental concerns for anybody involved in handling, dismantling, or disposing of them. The legal mandates we have in place protect the environment and the public from ill effects of hazardous substances like mercury.

At Cleanlites Recycling, we are dedicated to safety, sustainability, and harm reduction. We stand behind our commitment to reducing harmful electronic waste in landfills, supporting your green initiatives with confidence and compliance. Reach out today for a quote or to learn more about how we can help.