Canada cracks down on high-tech trash dumped in China
by CBC British Columbia (Canada)
22 December 2006 – Canada is getting tough on the illegal export of discarded lead acid batteries, computer monitors and other hazardous wastes from Vancouver to plants in China and Hong Kong.
A joint investigation by Environment Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency since last year seized 50 containers loaded with about 500,000 kilograms of "E-waste" — discarded parts valuable to foreign junk merchants who extract recyclable material from the goods.
One container of scrap metal and used parts such as motherboards can be worth up to $10,000.
The federal government has signed an international treaty making it illegal to move hazardous waste out of Canada without a permit, and the initiative is designed to protect the environments in developing countries.
The used electronic equipment often contains toxic chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
'A very large industry'
Environment Canada inspector Emmanuel Mendoza said investigators realize the size of the industry they're taking on.
"What we have been finding is that we are dealing with a very large industry. It's really unknown to us … and it is a fast-growing and profitable business," he said.
Vancouver's port serves as a major hub for the industry, taking in shipments from across the country. From Vancouver, it is then sold to the illegal scrap dealers in Hong Kong and mainland China.
Whether Canada's laws are strong enough to slow a shady multimillion-dollar industry is up for debate, said Seattle environmentalist Jim Puckett.
"It's laudable that Canadians are doing this enforcement action in Vancouver. It's never too late to enforce the law, but it may prove to be too little," Puckett said in an interview with CBC Newsworld.
"There are many ways to exploit the law and it appears that those will probably be exploited pretty soon."
He noted that since there are no such restrictions in the U.S., Canadian exporters could circumvent the laws but redirecting their shipments through American dealers.
Since November 2005, the joint investigations have caught 27 companies illegally shipping E-waste out of the port of Vancouver, and Canada Border Services issued more than $50,000 in fines.
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