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As you have probably heard, The Story of Electronics is out! Narrated by Annie Leonard, and made by the fine folks who brought us the incredibly popular Story of Stuff video, the sequel does a great job of highlighting the all too common life cycle of many of our electronics, like computers, cell phones, and televisions. Thankfully, The Story of Electronics also sheds light on many of the hidden consequences of our voracious electronics appetite: safety of workers, recyclers, and the environment.
The Story of Electronics shows that most of our electronics are “designed for the dump” rather than for a long life, reuse, and recycling. Annie encourages consumers to be aware of the dangers associated with their electronic purchases and demand extended producer responsibility from the high-tech companies and responsible producer takeback programs by our policy makers!
Here in Oregon, we already have a state producer takeback law, requiring all manufacturers, like Dell and HP, who want to sell to Oregon consumers, to take back consumer electronics when they reach the end of their life cycle. So far, 23 states have passed laws mandating some kind of e-waste recycling program, and seven more have introduced laws in 2010. However, recycling rates are still low – a fact that could be partly attributed to the disposable culture (i.e. “Design for the Dump” = selling lots of stuff) aggravated by the electronics industry’s practices.
So check out the video and help change this destructive culture by sharing it with your friends and family on Facebook, via e-mail, and on your other social networking sites. Also, see The Story of Electronics and the Electronics Takeback Coalition for ways to do more.
ELAW Office Manager
ELAW received good news early this morning that the National Court in Papua New Guinea (PNG) issued a new injunction that blocks a Chinese nickel mining company from disposing millions of tons of mine waste into Basamuk Bay off PNG’s north coast.
The Court stated: “The Defendant shall not, pending determination of the substantive proceedings, allow mine tailings or waste to be discharged into the sea through the deep sea tailings placement system or by any other means except by express order of the National Court or the Supreme Court.”
As we told you earlier this month, the case has been full of dramatic twists and turns. After the plaintiffs resigned from the case under suspicious circumstances and the case was dismissed, many more local residents stood up to take their place and fresh proceedings were filed. Now, 76 indigenous landowners have joined the case!
The injunction will remain in place until the Court conducts a trial early next year. Congratulations to the landowners, their attorney Tiffany Nonggorr, and attorney/ELAW partner Effrey Dademo (with Act Now! PNG).
ELAW Staff Attorney
This blog recently reported on a new bill that was introduced in the U.S. to prohibit the export of “restricted electronic waste” from the U.S. to developing nations.
In China, a new regulation called Management Regulations for Recycling and Disposing of Consumer Electronics and Electronic Waste will go into effect on January 1, 2011. This regulation aims to manage the importing, recycling and disposing of e-waste in China.
I am excited to hear the good news and hope that these new regulations will become effective tools to remedy the unjust e-waste “trade” that exists between developing and developed countries, such as that between China and the U.S. Over time, it has been common for U.S. “recyclers” to export waste, including toxic items, to countries like China, where labor and environmental laws are lacking.
I was shocked by a report released in 2009 by Greenpeace, revealing that Guiyu, China has become an e-waste town, where many inhabitants make a living by importing and recycling electronic waste. Guiyu is located at Chaonan area of Shantou city, Guangdong province. It covers 52.4 square km of land and includes 28 villages and 150,000 permanent residents. According to the Greenpeace report (1), Guiyu has become the “largest distribution center for electronic waste dismantling in China, and even in the world.” Since the early 90s, e-waste disposal has been the main industry of this town. There are more than 5,500 e-waste disposal plants in this town, contributing 75 million RMB (about $11 million) every year, and providing employment opportunities for more than 100,000 residents.*
However, these benefits come at a price: environmental health and human safety. E-waste recycling in Guiyu is dangerous work that has marred the landscape.
More than 1.5 millions pounds of e-waste is processed each year in Guiyu, including cell phones, computers, printers, and other electronic products, 80% of which come from developed countries, including the U.S.* This waste contains plastic, toxic organic compounds, and toxic heavy metals like gold, lead, copper, tin and antimony. Workers, often without proper protection, break down e-waste mostly by hand and extract precious metals and other valuable materials by burning and soaking materials in acids. The remaining ash is often dumped directly into rivers, canals, and other local waterways or buried nearby. Many wells are polluted too. Communities have lost their access to drinking water and are forced to truck in fresh water daily. LiuSi, a college student from Central University of Finance and Economics (Beijing) visited the town of Guiyu in December 2006 as a volunteer. She talked to a local family and found out that they had to buy water for daily life just like food. However the cheap water they bought doesn’t taste good. They can’t afford “good” water.
Local residents, especially children, are exposed to high-level of toxic metals like cadmium and lead. A study by QuXia, a professor at the Medical School, Shantou Univeristy, shows that “the stillbirth rate is six times higher than control group between 2003 and 2007”, and “the preterm delivery rate is as high as 62%.”
The new Chinese regulation Management Regulations for Recycling and Disposing of Consumer Electronics and Electronic Waste was passed by the state council of China on August 20, 2008 and will finally go into effect on January 1, 2011. The regulation makes several important points:
- No toxic e-waste can be imported;
- A permit is required for any e-wastes treatment;
- An e-waste treatment plant must be equipped with pollution treatment facilities…
However, the description of what qualifies as toxic e-waste is vague and the type of technologies that should be used for e-waste treatment is not specified. Additionally, the penalties for violations are not substantial enough to deter violators. For example, violators will be fined less than 50,000 RMB (about $7,495) for importing or buying toxic electronic waste.
New laws and policies in China that are designed to defend the environment are encouraging. However, without strict enforcement and high penalties, I know these laws will accomplish little. I feel better knowing environmental lawyers, like ELAW’s partners, are watching and working every day to enforce justice.
ELAW Program Associate
* The biggest e-wastes villages—Guiyu, Guangdong: http://discover.news.163.com/09/0412/09/56MIHS4J000125LI.html
As flat screen TVs, personal computers, and iPhones grow ever more popular, electronic waste (or e-waste) piles up! E-waste is toxic. Many cities and states in the U.S. have passed laws and resolutions to keep e-waste out of our own landfills and away from water supplies.
Sadly, this e-waste often ends up in other countries, where workers without proper health or environmental protection break apart the machines for very low wages.
According to the Electronics Takeback Coalition (ETC), the U.S. “export[s] enough e-waste each year to fill 5126 shipping containers (40 ft x 8.5 ft). If you stacked them up, they’d reach 8 miles high – higher than Mt Everest, or commercial flights.”
Many sham “recycling” companies in the U.S. ship toxic, unworking, and un-usable electronics to poorer nations. Other recycling companies, like Eugene’s own NextStep Recycling, have taken it upon themselves to protect workers and the environment. They have voluntarily become qualified by the Basel Action Network (BAN) under the Electronic Recyclers Pledge of True Stewardship program. This means they have pledged to keep toxic e-waste out of developing countries, and instead, break apart and recycle their e-waste in a responsible and safe manner. A new bill pending in Congress would ensure all companies in the U.S. are keeping our toxic e-waste out of developing countries.
On Sept 29, 2010, Representative Gene Green of Texas introduced H.R. 6252 in Congress, a bill that would make it illegal to send toxic e-waste to developing nations. According to ETC’s website, the new bill:
“creates a new section of the federal RCRA law, that prohibits the export of “restricted electronic waste” from the U.S. to developing nations. While tested and working equipment can still be exported to promote reuse, other consumer electronic equipment, parts, and material derived from them (such as shredded material) that contain toxic chemicals could not be exported to developing nations.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the export restriction: products subject to a recall; processed leaded glass cullet, which has been cleaned and prepared as feedstock into a glass-to-glass recycling plant in a country that does not classify it as a hazardous waste; and products covered by manufacturer warranties that are going back to the manufacturers that made them. ETC goes on to say that:
“Importing countries must give their consent to accept all of the exempted exports. This approach is consistent with the policy most other developed nations have adopted via international treaties – the Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment.”
Go to the ETC’s website for a summary and full text of the bill, and more information.
ELAW Office Manager
Environmental litigation typically tests a lawyer’s patience and commitment through long, drawn-out proceedings that can take years to reach any resolution. It is not the stuff of popular fiction or television plot lines. Last week, however, one particular case in Papua New Guinea (PNG) reached “Law and Order” level drama with missing plaintiffs, a mysterious fax, and a cliffhanger ending.
ELAW partners in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have spent many months challenging their government’s decision to permit a Chinese mining company, Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC), to dump millions of tons of nickel mining waste into Basamuk Bay off the country’s Rai coast. (Australian mining company Highlands Pacific Ltd. is a minority stakeholder in the project). This practice is known as “deep sea tailings placement” (DSTP), and is banned in China and Australia (among other countries).
Indigenous landowners along the coast oppose this waste disposal project because it will destroy the marine environment — affecting coral reefs, water quality, and fisheries. Thousands of landowners have signed a petition opposing the project. Earlier this year, PNG lawyer Tiffany Nonggorr filed a suit on behalf of several landowners. She faces a well-funded team representing the government and MCC, that has filed reams of documents and expert affidavits. Armed with technical support from regional scientists, ELAW staff scientist Mark Chernaik, and ELAW board member Professor Glenn Miller, Tiffany was able to counter MCC’s arguments that the mine waste would be harmless and obtained an injunction temporarily halting construction of the pipeline that would carry the waste out to sea. Lawyers for the mining company appealed the decision multiple times, including to the country’s Supreme Court, only to be turned back. At each step, ELAW’s staff attorneys worked with Tiffany to defeat the government’s and mining company’s attempts to lift the injunction.
Last week marked what was to be the start of a trial to determine whether the injunction should stay in place while the court decides the legal issues in the case. News reports described that the landowner plaintiffs were being threatened and harassed. Attempts to safely escort the plaintiffs by boat into the town of Madang for the proceedings were thwarted by gun-toting thugs. Then news broke that the plaintiffs were missing. After not being able to contact the landowners for several days, and on the eve of the trial, a fax came into Tiffany’s office from another law firm stating that the firm had instructions to represent the three landowner plaintiffs — and that the plaintiffs would be withdrawing from the case. This came as a shock and surprised even the judge, who stated that the circumstances surrounding the plaintiffs’ decision were “suspicious.” When questioned by Judge Cannings about their intentions, the landowners indicated that they still opposed DSTP, and were happy with how the case had proceeded so far, but were concerned about their personal safety and wanted to case to be discontinued.
Each day of the proceedings last week was incredibly dramatic. Would the three original plaintiffs appear in court? Would the court accept their decision to withdraw from the case? Would the court discontinue the proceedings after months of preparation, or would the judge allow a new plaintiff to continue? Each morning I would rush to my laptop and check for regional news reports and Facebook posts from ELAW partner Effrey Dademo, an attorney with Act Now! PNG who has been working with Tiffany on the case.
Finally the judge’s decision came last Friday. The case would be discontinued and the injunction lifted. Defeat. Heartbreak. But wait! Judge Cannings later declared that he would consider fresh proceedings filed by new plaintiffs and an application for an injunction. Many landowners have bravely stepped forward to be involved with the case despite considerable personal risk. Reprieve!
So as you go about your day, please send your thoughts of solidarity and support to the lawyers and local landowners who are valiantly pursuing this case on behalf of PNG’s coastal communities. We hope to be able to report good news soon.
ELAW Staff Attorney
Before I traveled to Liberia in West Africa as an ELAW fellow, like most people, I had no idea where the rubber that I ride around town on comes from. The answer, of course, is that rubber comes from latex, a milky colloid that when tapped by a skilled forester, flows from the sap of the rubber tree. The rubber tree, originally native to Brazil, is now grown in great quantities in equatorial regions the world over.
Rubber is Liberia’s biggest product, by some accounts amounting to almost 90% of Liberia’s official revenue from exports. By far, the largest producer is Firestone Tire Company, which leases one million acres of Liberia as a rubber plantation, equal to 4% of the country’s territory or nearly 10% of the arable land. Since the plantation was established in the 1920s, there have been widespread allegations of forced labor, pollution and other human rights abuses. There is an excellent summary of these issues in a recent Nation article that you can read here.
Fellow ELAW fellow Dan Kruse and I, accompanied by our hosts, Alfred Brownell and Francis Colee from ELAW partner Green Advocates, visited several sites around the Firestone Plantation, 30 miles southeast of the capital of Monrovia. Local residents told us that Firestone has been dumping raw waste from rubber manufacturing directly into the Farmington River that locals depend on for water. Many complain of rashes and birth defects as a result of using water from the river.
Green Advocates has in the past played a leading role in calling attention to pollution by Firestone. In 2005, Green Advocates invited the press, lawmakers, government officials, and UN officials to an event along the riverbank. Community members gave visiting dignitaries a tour of the community and the river. In response, Firestone quickly arranged its own press event and declared 2005 to 2006 its “Environmentally Friendly Year!”
Green Advocates is currently planning a class action lawsuit on behalf of local citizens to force Firestone to clean up its act. Alfred and Green Advocates see this sort of citizen legal action both as a way to protect people from pollution and strengthen Liberia’s civil society.
“When you take a company to court,” Alfred told us, “you cause the country to believe in the spirit of the law.”
Faculty Research Assistant
Oregon State University Institute for Natural Resources
James and Dan were selected by ELAW to participate in a joint project with ELAW Partners at Green Advocates in Liberia. As a part of this project, Francis Colee of Green Advocates visited ELAW in February.
We are honored to have our partner Diana McCaulay of Jamaica Environment Trust share her thoughts on their great victory cleaning up the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant. Diana worked for many years with ELAW attorneys and scientists on this challenge — and her hard work as finally paid off! Congratulations to Diana and all the people at JET and in Jamaica who never gave up.
Crimes Against Nature
The Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant was one of the first places I saw, when I became interested in environmental issues back in the late 1980s. I have told this story so many times it feels like something I read. But it is my story. At the time I was working in the insurance industry and I applied for a day off – exchanged my suit and stockings for jeans and water boots – I had no idea what a sewage treatment plant might entail by way of terrain, but I was pretty sure there could be puddles. My escort, Dr. Homero Silva, on secondment to the Ministry of Health in Jamaica from the Pan American Health Organization and much more outspoken than anyone else at the time, took me to the Riverton City dump, and three of Kingston’s non functional sewage plants – Greenwich, Western and Harbour View. And I did need my water boots at Harbour View, because the sewage flowed everywhere, foamy and malodourous, carrying condoms and sanitary pad liners and untreated human excrement right into the sea.
I couldn’t believe it. I mean, who spends any time thinking about what happens when we flush a toilet, we just assume the engineers and contractors and regulators figure it out and we’re not directly responsible for polluting the sea, a river or the ground water several times a day. But there, in front of me on that stinking afternoon was the evidence that we couldn’t rely on engineers and contractors and government regulators. Then, I thought the problem was: People didn’t know. After all, I hadn’t known. I would tell them.
And so I became a woman who was concerned about sewage plants and garbage dumps and eventually, I gave up my suits and stockings and went around Jamaica on my self-appointed mission of Telling People, initially with blown up photographs of the Harbour View sewage plant, Riverton City and denuded hillsides, then with a slide projector and a script, finally with a laptop and Power Point. I learned I was wrong about the problem – it was true people hadn’t known, but they preferred not to know. What could we do, after all? We just had to hope the engineers and the contractors and the government regulators would decide to do their work.
Fast forward to the late 1990s and the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) was an Actual Organization and I was its CEO, and we teamed up with the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW), and the MacArthur Foundation to start an environmental law programme in Jamaica.
By then, I was burned out to ash, and the Harbour View Sewage Treatment Plant was still putting its untreated sewage into the sea. Our first Legal Director, Akilah Anderson, started working with the community – there were long years of letter writing and meetings and attempts at mediation and engagement with the press, all utterly unsuccessful. In 2005 we asked the community – will you go to court with us? They thought about it. And they said no. Folks were afraid – they or their families worked for the Jamaican government, they feared victimization, they didn’t trust the courts, and they knew it would take years. By then, it had become The Way it Was – if you lived in Harbour View, you smelled sewage, you didn’t use the beach and if your kids disobeyed you and went into the sea, they got sick.
Why didn’t we file legal action alone? Because I felt part of the problem in Jamaica was the belief that someone else should solve our problems, if not those engineers and contractors and government regulators, then some other figure of authority. So I said to everyone who asked us for help – we will stand with you, but not in front of you. Thanks, they said, and hung up the phone.
We never gave up on Harbour View, and in 2006, our second Legal Director, Danielle Andrade, met two people who lived in the community who were prepared to go to court – Carol Lawton and Michael Williams. Carol was incensed when a representative of the National Water Commission told him that the sewage on the beach was not his concern. Michael’s son got sick after swimming in the sea. And so we started the long process of putting together a legal case, the taking of statements, the writing of affidavits, the soliciting of expert testimony, the researching of precedents and arguments – oh so much photocopying and binding and tabulating and stamping and notarizing – the piles and piles of paper this issue generated! We sought leave to apply for Judicial Review in the Supreme Court, and it was granted, and by then Danielle had taken a sabbatical from JET to do a Master’s in environmental law, and we contracted attorney Clyde Williams to finish the case with us.
Three weeks before our day in court, we were contacted by the National Water Commission (NWC), the owners and non operators of the plant – they asked if we could resolve the matter “without troubling the court.” And in the end we went to court with a consent agreement which required the NWC to fix the plant, with details and timelines, to report their progress to us, including tours of the works, and declarations from the court that the regulatory agencies – the Kingston and St. Andrew Health Department, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) had all failed to carry out their statutory duties.
On July 14th, 2010 I was part of a panel on “All Angles” on Television Jamaica (TVJ). Uncomfortably back in my suit (I hate doing TV), I watched the footage TVJ had taken – of the noxious sewage on the land and the curling surf right there, and even three children swimming in the sea. They interviewed one of the people who had moved onto the site and was living in those unspeakable conditions, she was so young, and she said, she needed materials for the place she would move to and she was sending this message straight to the Prime Minister. And I listened to the jacket-and-tie’d government people on the panel with me make their usual excuses and explanations for their thirty years of neglect, incompetence and willful abdication of their legal mandate.
“Do you know what the most important thing a person needs in order to work for the Jamaican government?” I asked my colleagues in one of the breaks. “The ability to defend the indefensible,” I told them, not waiting for any expression of interest in my views. I wish I’d said it on air.
“What lesson do you take away from this?” the TV host, Dionne Jackson Miller asked me at the end of the programme. “Go to court,” I said, trying to remember which camera I was supposed to look at. “It might take years, there are definitely risks, but in the end, that’s all that will bring the engineers and the contractors and the government regulators to the table.”
I haven’t done it yet, but before many days go by, I will go to the beach at Harbour View and look at the crime against nature and humanity that caused me to change my life course, and I hope I will have a moment of satisfaction, as I turn my back to the derelict sewage plant and look out to sea. And I’ll invite the Harbour View citizens, especially Carol and Michael, to come with me…
Diana McCaulay, Chief Executive Officer of Jamaica Environment Trust
(This blog entry was first published on the JET blog)
WHY and HOW? Some thoughts about China’s unsuccessful environmental protection
The Chinese government is increasingly concerned about water pollution, water shortages, air pollution, desertification and other environmental issues, since these problems are going to damage the country’s “development and stability” which are two top priorities claimed by President Deng, Xiaoping. However, because “development” always remains at the top, environmental protection can only be used as an interim remedial measure when needed. In my opinion, this is the most essential reason why all efforts of environmental protection in China have always fallen into short-term effects.
For example, The People’s Republic of China Water Pollution Control Act has been in effect since June 1, 2008. This is China’s “Clean Water Act”, updated based on valuable experience of other countries including the U.S. It includes protections such as setting national and state discharge standards, implementing emissions permit system, and establishing water quality monitoring. A lot of hope was put on this new law. However, none of these rules have been implemented effectively, because no local government is willing to take it seriously enough regardless of GDP decrease. Therefore, as long as GDP is still valued as the country’s number one target, pollution can’t be eliminated.
Furthermore, pollution can’t be treated or prevented until all the related political and legal systems are established to work together, and the environment-friendly ethics and culture are revived.
For an instance, there is still no specific authorized legal support for civil environmental litigation, with only a few general descriptions mentioned in the Environmental Protection Law, Civil Law and the Administrative Procedure Law. This is only a small example of how difficult it is to use take a legal fight for the environment in China. Not to mention the whole legal system needs to be strengthened, gaining more independence. Otherwise, public interest lawyers will continue to suffer all kinds of non-legal challenges during the processes.
Besides “development and stability”, the other national top priority claimed by Deng is “reform”. As the whole world knows, Deng’s “1980s reform” leads China to be a fast growing country directly. However, Deng’s reform theory has not been understood comprehensively so far. As a matter of fact, it is supposed to include “economic reform, political system reform, and other corresponding reforms” (Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping volume 3, p. 237), but the government has been put overwhelming efforts on “economic reform” exclusively since 1980s. Without an overall treatment, the serious environmental pollution in China cannot be cured.
It’s always painful to admit mistakes, but it is even more challenging to correct them. As discussed above, it is critical to enforce integrated consideration and to keep balanced “reforms/development” all the time. Then the real question comes to everyone: are we ready to get rid of the addition of over-consumption of the environment?
Chu “Cassie” Chen, ELAW intern
Communities in Hungary are up in arms about a state-owned company that wants to build a 440-megawatt power plant near Visonta, close to a protected area. The power plant would be fueled by lignite, a soft brown fuel that falls somewhere between coal and peat.
A lignite mine, serving a smaller power plant at the same location, has already depleted groundwater supplies. An expanded mine to supply the new plant would only make things worse. On top of that, the current plant is already Hungary’s largest greenhouse gas emitter. The new plant would increase CO2 emissions by 2.5 million tons/year.
ELAW partners at the Environmental Management Law Association are working to shelve this bad project before it leaves the drawing board. EMLA attorney Agnes Gajdics was in the U.S. earlier this year on an ELAW Fellowship. She worked with me and other ELAW staff to help strengthen her case against the power plant.
Agnes sends good news: Authorities have revoked permission to build the plant and have required a new environmental impact assessment!
This is good news for the climate and good news for communities, including the residents of Csinsce who live atop the lignite field that may need to be tapped to feed the proposed new power plant.
Congratulations to Agnes and everyone at EMLA for this inspiring win!
Belize offers almost perfect habitat for bonefish, permit and tarpon, and ideal opportunities to pursue them with flies. Unfortunately, some shortsighted developers don’t care about the flats and the health of the marine environment. They have already destroyed critical habitats, and more abusive projects are being planned:
- The proposed South Beach mega-resort on Ambergris Caye would destroy roughly 500 acres of mangroves near Hol Chan Marine Reserve – essential habitat for the many bonefish that live and breed in the area.
- In southern Belize, a proposed development on Big and Little Channel Cayes in the Southwater Marine Reserve, a World Heritage Site, would destroy mangrove, coral and sea grass beds – the perfect permit habitat that gives this area its reputation as the “Permit Capital of the World.”
- Prime tarpon habitat has already been destroyed by dredging and construction of a development on Rendezvous Caye off the Placencia coast.
Fortunately, people who live in Belize are organizing to protect these fish and the habitat they need. Fishing guides, small hotel operators, and citizens are coming together to challenge environmental abuses and work toward a sustainable model of development that protects Belize’s unique marine habitats. The Ambergris Caye Citizens for Sustainable Development (ACCSD) in San Pedro and the Peninsula Citizens for Sustainable Development (PCSD) on Placencia are young organizations that want to chart a sustainable future that protects the fish.
ACCSD and PCSD have teamed up with ELAW to ensure that the lessons learned through these efforts to protect fish habitat in Belize can be shared around the world through the ELAW network.
We have joined to form the Grand Slam Alliance, which will strive to:
1. Stop the destruction of flats, mangroves, corals, and seagrass beds that are critical for fish;
2. Assist with crafting master plans for coastal and island development that will protect valuable habitat;
3. Work to strengthen and enforce laws and regulations aimed at protecting sportfish and their habitat;
4. Educate communities about the importance of protecting habitat that is critical to the long-term survival of healthy fish populations; and
5. Help communities speak out to protect fish and critical habitat.
To learn more about the Grand Slam Alliance, visit our website: www.grandslamalliance.org