State fines Seattle recycler $444,000 after high-tech sleuthing

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SEATTLE – The Washington Ecology Department has fined a Seattle electronics recycler $440,000.

The Ecology Department says Total Reclaim Inc. illegally disposed of flat-screen TVs and monitors with fluorescent tubes containing toxic mercury. The company shipped the flat screens to Hong Kong. There workers who weren't protected broke the screens apart, the state says.

In a statement, Total Reclaim said it will dispute the penalty but is "fully cooperating with the agency throughout the process and stopped exporting these materials before Ecology’s inquiry began."

The Ecology Department said the disposal of the screens was discovered thanks to some high-tech sleuthing.

The Basel Action Network, a nonprofit that certified electronics recyclers for E-Cycle Washington, attached GPS tracking beacons to electronics, then dropped them off at recyclers. Some of the goods were traced to Hong Kong, and the nonprofit filmed how the flat screens were dismantled and disposed of.

In May, KOMO reported that the Basel Action Network conducted a two-year investigation, placing GPS transponders in 200 devices dropped off at recycling facilities nationwide. More than 30 percent ended up in locations abroad, including Mexico, Kenya and Hong Kong.

The Ecology Department says Total Reclaim admitted that it sent the flat screens to undocumented recyclers and that it didn't tell that information to customers and auditors. Records from Total Reclaim show that it shipped flat screens overseas starting seven years ago, the Ecology Department says.

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. Washington residents can recycle TVs, monitors, computers and other electronics for free at participating E-Cycle Washington locations. For questions about where other items can be recycled, call or visit 1-800-RECYCLE.

Total Reclaim said it has taken " a number of steps to improve our operations and performance."

It says those steps include:

  • Retrofitting a $2.4 million “Smasher” to capture mercury potentially liberated during the mechanical processing of electronic devices. Total Reclaim says its 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. the company says it 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 its facilities to ensure its operations meet the Washington Preferred Processor Standards, which was successfully concluded in early June.
  • Implementing independent, third party quarterly audits of 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.
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