The Oklahoma company that worked with a number of area charitable organizations in a free electronics recycling program earlier this year violated at least seven hazardous waste management regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency, officials said.You might recall that this matter was discussed at length on this blog last Wednesday, but to refresh, let’s run through some details.
The federal regulatory agency on Friday issued a complaint and compliance order against the Tulsa-based EarthEcycle LLC, which is owned and operated by Jeff Nixon, 44, a former Allegheny County employee. (Post-Gazette, 6/11/2009)
1. The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society set up a charity fund drive with EarthECycle whereby the Humane Society would collect electronics - TV’s, computer monitors, printers, cell phones, and the like - and EarthECycle would facilitate the recycling of everything collected.
2. For every 100,000 pounds collected, EarthECycle would donate $10,000 to the Humane Society. More than 1,000,000 pounds were collected, thus putting the Humane Society’s bounty above $100,000.
3. But according to a report from the Basel Action Network, an environment watchdog group, the collected items were not recycled; rather, they were shipped to various points in Hong Kong and South Africa where they were to be stripped and disposed of in an unsound manner that in no way resembles recycling.
4. As of last Wednesday, the Humane Society had not been paid its expected donations from EarthECycle. A single check for $10,000 had been issued to the Humane Society, but it came with an indefinite hold, most likely due to the looming legal battle EarthECycle and operator Jeff Nixon knew would be coming.
That’s the nuts and bolts of it. In my last post on the subject, I was particularly pointed in putting blame on the Humane Society for this mess, and I still feel like they bear the brunt of the responsibility. Without further re-hashing everything I posted last week, I’ll just sum it up by saying that safely and properly recycling electronics costs money. If you want to recycle your TV or old computer monitor, you have to pay someone to take it, and that company will most likely turn around and pay someone else to do the actual recycling. Either way, someone is getting paid.
Which is why the Humane Society-EarthECycle deal made no sense. The only way - as far as I’ve seen - to produce the kind of money EarthECycle promised to the Humane Society was to sell the electronics to overseas companies who would strip the items of any valuable materials and then dispose of the remains. Even just a little research would have likely led the Humane Society to sense that something was rotten in the state of Demark, but from all appearances, the lure of the cash was too strong.
(For full disclosure: I donated a couple old printers and some other broken electronics to the Humane Society’s collection, so I bear some personal responsibility as well for not being more diligent. My mistake was trusting the Humane Society.)
Okay then; I think we’re up to speed. The latest news to come on this story is that the EPA is involved.
The administrative charges against EarthEcycle include: failure to make a hazardous waste determination; failure to prepare a hazardous waste manifest; unauthorized export of hazardous waste; failure to provide notice to the regional [EPA] administrator of an intent to export cathode ray tubes for reuse; failure to package the electronics; failure to label; and failure to mark them.So it’s all administrative, and I’m of the opinion that any way you can stop a company like EarthECycle is good. It would be nice if they could actually go after this company for the exporting/improper disposal of those goods, but unfortunately the United States has not ratified the current international accord regarding hazardous waste, so for now we’ll have to go after the paperwork.
"EPA takes proper and safe management of electronic waste seriously, which is why we have opened an investigation of EarthEcycle for violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act," said a statement issued through agency spokesman Dave Ryan yesterday. (P-G, 6/11/2009)
That being said, it does look like the EPA plans to make life very difficult for Jeff Nixon and EarthECycle until the company properly handles the collected items.
Now the EPA has ordered Mr. Nixon to "take possession of all of the containers that are returned to the United States and remove them from the Port of Newark," within 30 days. He also is supposed to transfer the containers to a secure warehouse for temporary storage under his control.Hopefully the EPA will be strict about getting those electronics into a proper recycling program.
Within 45 days, Mr. Nixon must submit a plan for EPA approval detailing how he will manage each item in each container in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The order further states that Mr. Nixon "shall not remove any items from the storage facility without EPA approval" and he "shall remove all items from storage within 20 days of EPA's approval" of his plan.
If Mr. Nixon fails to comply with the requirements of the order within the time specified, the "EPA may seek the imposition of penalties of up to $37,500 for each day of continued noncompliance, in addition to any other penalties that maybe assessed for past or ongoing violations." (P-G, 6/11/2009)
But the one thread still hanging is the Humane Society. No Humane Society representatives are quoted in today’s article about the EPA action, and I suppose that makes sense. The last we heard from the Humane Society was last Wednesday’s article in the P-G under the headline Humane groups think they’ve been duped.
"I haven't been able to get a hold of Mr. Nixon since our [recycling program ended]," said Alice Wancowicz, volunteer coordinator for the Washington animal shelter.The Washington Area Humane Society and the Humane Society of Westmoreland County were also caught up in EarthECycle’s plan/web/scam/scheme, and while that article doesn’t actually quote anyone from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society, I think we can assume that those people probably have the same reactions as the other two Humane Society’s.
Kathy Burkley, executive director of the Humane Society of Westmoreland County, said she also received a similar check from Mr. Nixon two weeks ago, "after prodding him for a while." (P-G, 6/3/2009>
But both Ms. Burkley and Ms. Wancowicz said they are quickly losing hope in recovering their proceeds.Yeah, I’m going to have to go against the grain on that one. I know Nixon promised this money to the Humane Society’s, but in light of everything that has come out - and with the EPA now involved, we can pretty safely say that the scam was what it appeared to be - shouldn’t the Humane Society’s turn down that money? Even if Nixon recycles the collected items, which will come at severe cost to him, should the Humane Society’s still feel entitled to that money? They facilitated this situation by not doing the proper research, and even if they are patsies in the whole thing, I’m not sure that they deserve to reap any rewards from it.
"We probably will have to sue him if he doesn't make his payment to us," said Ms. Burkley, adding that she has already given a copy of the check she received from EarthEcycle to Greensburg police. (P-G, 6/3/2009>
I would go so far as to say that, if the environmental watchdog group released its report but it had no impact and Nixon’s scheme went as planned, there would be a certain responsibility on the part of the Humane Society’s to not accept the money. At this point, they probably won’t get any money because Nixon’s not going to have any to give - I would assume - but they should realize that a mea culpa is in order, along with a condemnation of Jeff Nixon and EarthECycle, a public apology to those who donated items, and a stated guarantee that no money will be accepted from this program.
And you know, there might be another angle on this thing. Allegheny County was involved in the program to a certain degree - although they washed their hands of it from the first cry of foul - but I wonder just how much involvement the County had. There might need to be a second mea culpa issued. Perhaps we’ll look a little more into that in the future.