The Washington Department of Ecology has fined the Seattle-based electronics recycler Total Reclaim Inc. $444,000 for illegally disposing of flat-screen televisions and monitors with fluorescent tubes containing toxic mercury. The company shipped the flat screens to Hong Kong, where they were broken apart in the open by unprotected workers.
“Total Reclaim has been a leading electronics recycler in Washington, so they knew what they were doing was wrong,” says Laurie Davies, manager of Ecology’s Waste 2 Resources program. “This penalty is a reminder that recyclers can’t take shortcuts when it comes to properly managing toxic chemicals.”
Total Reclaim’s actions were revealed in an investigation by Washington-based Basel Action Network (BAN), a nonprofit group that certifies electronics recyclers for E-Cycle Washington and similar programs. BAN attached GPS tracking beacons to electronics, then dropped off the units at recycling facilities. The group followed some of the trackers to Hong Kong, and filmed how the flat screens were dismantled and disposed of.
Total Reclaim later admitted that it sent the flat screens to undocumented recycling facilities and that it withheld information from customers and auditors. The company provided records to Ecology that showed it shipped flat screens overseas beginning seven years ago.
Washington law requires electronics recyclers to either properly recycle e-waste themselves, or ensure that it is legitimately recycled elsewhere. E-Cycle Washington was set up to prevent the toxic materials in old electronics from ending up in the environment, whether here in Washington or elsewhere in the world.
Total Reclaim has 30 days to pay the penalty or may file an appeal with the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Following the announced fine, Total Reclaim released the following statement:
"We understand that the Washington Department of Ecology has decided to issue a notice of penalty of $444,000 to Total Reclaim related to the export of certain products, first reported in May of this year. Although Total Reclaim will be disputing the penalty, we are fully cooperating with the agency throughout the process and stopped exporting these materials before Ecology’s inquiry began.
"Total Reclaim has been a pioneer recycler of electronic and other waste and strongly reaffirms its commitment to surpassing certification requirements of standard-setting bodies. We strive to surpass all processing standards for the waste materials we recycle and continually review our operations to ensure that they meet or surpass requirements of regulatory agencies. We have re-assessed our operations, the reasons we created Total Reclaim in 1990 and are renewing our commitment to be the most environmentally responsible recycler in the region.
"Our goal is to continue to earn the trust our customers place in us to provide recycling solutions that meet their needs and protect human health and the environment.
"Over the past few months we have taken a number of steps to improve our operations and performance including:
- Retrofitting our $2.4 million “Smasher” to capture mercury potentially liberated during the mechanical processing of electronic devices. Total Reclaim’s Smasher is the only machine of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
- Designing and constructing new equipment to separate mercury-bearing fluorescent tubes contained in flat screen TVs and computer monitors for recycling with standard fluorescent lighting and mercury bearing bulbs. Again, this is the only machine of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.
- Contracting with an independent third party auditor to conduct a new, thorough inspection of our facilities to ensure our operations meet the Washington Preferred Processor Standards, which was successfully concluded in early June.
- Implementing independent, third party quarterly audits of our operations to ensure continued compliance with regulatory standards, contract requirements and company policies. Results of these audits will be made available to the public via the company website.
- Making our new machines and technologies available to competing recycling companies so they can also take advantage of their improved safety and performance.
- Working with our customers to ensure that their trust in our operations is restored. Total Reclaim was the first large scale recycler of electronic equipment in the Pacific Northwest.
"We are working hard every day to rekindle the pioneering spirit that made us one of the most environmentally responsible recyclers in the region since our founding more than 25 years ago."