Saturday, August 23, 2008


The Globe and Mail

Criminals expected to profit from e-trash


With reports from The Canadian Press

August 23, 2008

The growing amount of laptops, portable phones and other electronics being tossed away in Canada is creating new trafficking opportunities for organized crime, the country's law-enforcement officials are predicting.

The warning is contained in the 2008 annual report of the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, under a section devoted to emerging and future threats.

"The illicit trafficking and disposal of 'e-waste' - computers, televisions, cell phones - is driving a burgeoning environmental and human health crisis in several developing nations in Asia and, increasingly, in Africa," the report says.

"Criminal networks can profit by collecting e-waste in developed countries such as Canada and selling it to 'recyclers' in developing nations."

Things will get worse between next year and 2011, the report says, because millions of North American television sets will be made obsolete by digital broadcasting.

"One of the reasons organized crime has been as successful as it is, is that they're very adaptable and it's not like they've given up any of their traditional markets," RCMP Commissioner William Elliott said at the unveiling of the report in Montreal.

"If it wasn't lucrative, organized crime groups wouldn't be involved in it."

Environmental groups have long complained that Canada allows the shipping of electronic waste to Asia, despite its obligations under the Basel Convention, the international treaty that restricts the exports of hazardous materials.

Canadians throw away an estimated 140,000 tonnes of electronic junk in a year, said Josh Lepawsky, a geography professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland who is doing research on the international trade of e-waste.

Statistics Canada figures also show that the personal computers and televisions thrown away each year in Canada contain massive amounts of toxic metals, including 4,750 tonnes of lead, 4½ tonnes of cadmium and 1.1 tonnes of mercury.

Prof. Lepawsky estimates that half to three-quarters of Canadian e-waste earmarked for recycling actually ends up in Asia or Africa.

Estimating the size of the illicit trafficking is trickier. "You have to rely on customs documents. So if they're altered, assuming they even exist, as an investigator, it'd be very hard to trace that," he said. "We know it exists, but how big it really is, it's hard to say."

While China has banned the import of electronic waste, members of the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based watchdog, spotted a shipment of used computer equipment from Vancouver in Guangdong province in 2002. The printers still carried tags from Air Canada and the Department of National Defence.

In 2004, customs officers in Hong Kong, inspecting what was supposed to be a container full of metal scraps from Vancouver, found instead 625 used computer monitors and television sets, along with other undeclared computer accessories and compact discs.

In the Port of Vancouver late in 2006, Environment Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency seized 50 containers bound for China and Hong Kong that carried thousands of used computer monitors.

The CISC report also warns that careless disposal of computer drives also create an opportunity for organized crime to cull government, corporate and personal information.

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