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Background Briefing -

View in ParlView

Rebecca Le Tourneau: It's dawn in Sydney's west, and I'm riding with the garbos. We're on the general household clean up the run.
Garbo: 10 computers so far we've picked up today, only been going for about half an hour.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: It's not just mattresses and furniture we're picking up this morning, but also a growing mountain of electronic waste.
Garbo: More computers again. TVs, computers and cardboard. It never ends.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: You might be surprised to learn all of this e-waste will end up in landfill.
So it's all mixed in together type stuff?
Garbo: Yes, completely mixed in.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So far this morning the garbos have picked up hard drives, laptops and big-screen TVs, and it's all going to get dumped at one of the biggest tips in NSW, with a crater the size of an open cut mine.
So David, that's the end of the line for the curbside rubbish that I watched the council picking up that was going into the compacter.
David Muir: That's it, that's as far as it goes.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Dave Muir is a manager for national disposal company, Suez.
Do you think people realise that this is what happens when they put out electronics on the kerbside?
David Muir: No, I think it's a matter of as soon as it's put on the kerbside the problem goes to that magical place, it goes away, it's somewhere else.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: There really is no 'away' is there.
David Muir: No, because you're going to have to deal with it one day, or our kids are going to have to, or their grandkids. The problem is just put underground, it hasn't gone anywhere, it's just covered up.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: In 2011 the Labor Government brought in a national scheme to send 35% of our televisions and computers to recycling. Sadly, nothing else with a plug, just TVs and computers.
The idea was for big retailers and manufacturers to fund the recycling of e-waste, a polluter-pays principle. Councils would collect the e-waste on their behalf and send it to recyclers.
But the funding was grossly inadequate, and councils were swamped with e-waste they couldn't afford to recycle. So, many councils just gave up. And now five years into the scheme there are still councils which don't have any e-waste recycling at all.
Like here in Toowoomba, a major regional centre in southern Queensland with a population of 160,000 people. After a quick pick-over by charities for anything which might work, e-waste here goes straight to landfill.
Resident: I don't think I'm throwing out any electronics. Maybe…actually there's an old mobile phone in there.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: In amongst the rubbish?
Resident: Yep.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Just in amongst the general rubbish.
Resident: Yep.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Other residents admit they're in the dark about what happens to their dead computers.
Resident: I have no idea, no, no idea at all.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Would you be surprised that all of it goes into landfill here?
Resident: I did not know that, no.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Nancy, this is the best looking rubbish dump I think I've ever seen.
Nancy Sommerfield: How dare you call it a rubbish dump, it's a very spiffy waste transfer station!
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Local Councillor, Nancy Sommerfield, is proud of the Toowoomba's waste depot. They have bins to recycle green waste, paper, plastic, bottles, everything except electronic waste.
Did you take part in the Federal Government scheme for recovering computers and all the rest of the electronic waste?
Nancy Sommerfield: We actually weren't able to because it was given to the high-end users in the coastal areas and larger cities, they got the first opportunity because that was the quick, easy grab.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: How do you feel about that?
Nancy Sommerfield: Left out of the opportunity to do better things for our earth.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Hi, I'm Rebecca Le Tourneau.
On Background Briefing we're investigating Australia's dirty e-waste habit and the failure of our national recycling scheme. You'll also hear how container-loads of our broken computers are being illegally exported to the poorest countries in the world.
How much did you say you would be able to pay us for the computers?
Dealer: I give you offer, is $500 for a tonne, is a thousand kg, right?
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So you can take our broken computers for $500 a tonne?
Dealer: Yes, per tonne.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Broken computers are considered hazardous e-waste, it's illegal to dump them overseas. But the agent I find easily in the Middle East says dealing with Australian border control won't be a problem for him.
Do we have to fill out any customs forms or anything like that?
Dealer: What?
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Do we have to fill out any customs forms or anything like that to release it from Australia?
Dealer: Customs, no, Australia, before...you don't have to worry about custom…
Rebecca Le Tourneau: I don't have to deal with customs, your guy...
Dealer: Yes, you don't have any problem with custom, nobody ask from you; who sell? Where you sell? Because that is my problem, how to move and my friend is my problem, how to move Australia to Dubai.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Oh okay, I understand, so he knows how to deal with the customs issue, he knows what to put on the forms.
Dealer: Yes, he will deal with customs, not you!
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Your friend.
Dealer: Because I try to help with you, is not a problem, I told you.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: My new business associate thinks that I have 40 tonnes of old busted computers to sell.
So would you send us a container and we just put them in the container?
Dealer: Yeah, I will send you in two days, three days, this empty container.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: What I'm discussing is a criminal offence in Australia. But nobody has ever been prosecuted, despite more than 20 illegal shipments being intercepted by our Border Security in the last five years, and, according to industry sources, countless others which make it through. It's the best open secret in the e-waste business.
Dealer: It's not a problem, I told you I am support you, I am with you, is not a problem, just trust me.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And apparently a lot of Australian e-waste recyclers do.
Geordie Gill owns one of the country's biggest recycling companies. He's frustrated with what he sees as a deeply flawed system and poorly policed international e-waste racket.
Geordie Gill: Recently we have or the border has stopped a number of containers, I believe it was 6 containers going over to Africa. But I would estimate it would be half a dozen a month going offshore and they are ending up in Africa, in China. The environmental effects it's having in those places is catastrophic.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And we discover many of these containers are landing in the West African nation of Ghana, on a huge e-waste dump called Agbogbloshie, in the capital of Accra, home to 4 million people. The dump lies alongside the now hopelessly polluted main river, the Odaw, its banks littered with millions of smashed electronics. Children scavenge through the poisonous rubbish, burning circuit-boards over open fires to melt out the tin, gold and lead, breathing in the toxic fumes, earning less than a dollar a day.
Michael Anane: So David, which countries are these items coming from, this electronic waste that you're piling?
David: Russia, Germany, Australia and England as well.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And it's here that Background Briefing discovers e-waste from one of Australia's Big 4 banks.
Does it look to you like a St George sticker?
Don Quinn: That is a St George asset, yes.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: How does that get onto a Ghanaian dump, one of the worst dumps in the world?
Don Quinn: I wouldn't even like to guess, I really couldn't say.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So any theories on how this has happened?
Don Quinn: No, not really.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: That's Don Quinn who manages WorkVentures, a not-for-profit group who run Westpac's e-waste recycling service. Westpac owns St George Bank.
How this St George monitor ended up in one the world's most toxic dumps raises big questions about the regulation and oversight of our e-waste disposal.
Australians are one of the biggest consumers of electronics in the world. Each year we purchase 7 million computers and televisions alone. But there are millions more kettles, toasters, microwaves, anything with a plug.
When these products hit their use-by date, the volume of our e-waste is overwhelming.
University of New South Wales environmental researcher Ashleigh Morris crunches our electronics numbers.
Ashleigh Morris: Each year, what we are disposing is actually around 578,000 metric tonnes, so you think of a car, that's one tonne, so now think of 578,000 cars in a field. Now look at that as e-waste, that's what we are doing each year in this country as a result of our consumption rates.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: That's an incredible picture, 578,000 cars is the equivalent of what we produce in e-waste, throw away electronics every year?
Ashleigh Morris: Yes it's staggering and I think most Australians would believe that it's being recycled and recovered but it's not, and I think that's what is key for people to understand and start to think about, what happens to that product at the end of its life.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: In Sydney's far west, the garbage trucks are about to tip their waste into a giant hole in the ground.
Dave Muir is a project manager with Suez, one of our biggest waste disposal companies. He tells me an extraordinary story of how he and his team climb over the piles of rubbish in a last ditch effort to grab what e-waste they can before it gets dumped in the landfill.
And how much do you manage to rescue at the last minute before it heads off to landfill?
David Muir: Not nearly enough, but we get what we can.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Do you get much electronics? Do they find much electronics?
David Muir: Yeah, unfortunately we do. A lot of people put their stuff out, put their computers and other old devices on the side of the road, and there's not a lot we can do to pull that out. Once it mixes in with all the other rubbish in the back of the truck, when it gets here a lot of it is broken, smashed up, mixed together with all the other rubbish, so it really doesn't have much of a chance of getting recovered.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Some councils do offer occasional drop-off days for e-waste, but even brand new electronics get thrown into the container for recycling, smashed up for their plastics and metals.
Are you surprised at the quality of some of the stuff that comes in that people are chucking out?
Council worker: I am actually, yeah, some of it's in really good working order still, hardly ever been used. Yeah, you just think wow...
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Hi, Rebecca Le Tourneau from Background Briefing, what do you have here today?
Resident: Old PCs, a black and white TV, DVD player.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: It looks a bit heavy, I'll walk along with you for a minute.
What do you think happens to the stuff that you're putting here today? The big hard drive and PCs and stuff?
Resident: Well, I'm hoping it gets recycled, I'm hoping they're taking all the bits and pieces out of it, but I see it's going into a container, so now I don't know.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Would you be surprised to hear a lot of it ends up in landfill, despite our best efforts?
Resident: Really? Horrified! Is that right?
Rebecca Le Tourneau: When the national e-waste recycling scheme was introduced, many councils like Canterbury in Sydney, which looks after 150,000 people, were enthusiastic. They started up an e-waste drop-off day at the council depot. Daniela Santucci is the waste manager.
So what happened on that first drop-off day?
Daniela Santucci: We were all shocked because the first event in February 2011, I remember it vividly, was that we had 1,300 vehicles that came through the gate and dropped off 70 tonnes of electronic waste.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Were you expecting that?
Daniela Santucci: I was expecting people to turn up but not 1,300 with that amount of material, 70 tonnes of electronic waste. So we had to take a deep breath and reassess and re-evaluate. And when we did it the same time the following year we thought we were prepared, however that time we got 1,500 vehicles with just short of 100 tonnes of material.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: It was a tsunami.
The Federal Government increased the e-waste levy on retailers and manufacturers and raised the recycling target for the computers and tellies that were dropped off, but even then that was way too low.
Environmental researcher, Ashleigh Morris:
Ashleigh Morris: It was too low. Way, way too low, and it was met so quickly, which meant those services that the councils signed up to have were stopped with no notice. So you had one minute your citizens coming to drop their e-waste component off and then the service was gone, so that really created a lot of confusion in the public. And I think for people who do make the effort to go to an e-waste drop-off and it's no longer working, they are probably not going to do that again.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Councils were left in the lurch, with tonnes of e-waste parked at their depots and no money to recycle it.
Ashleigh Morris: So you were seeing hazardous waste stockpiled all over the country, so the lead bars, the mercury lamps behind the TVs, it was a big problem and a very dangerous one.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And some of our dangerous problem finds it way overseas.
Geordie Gill, who recycles everything he collects here in Australia, tells me he's frequently approached by rogue offshore dealers, hungry for his hazardous e-waste.
Geordie Gill: I would have to say that probably on a fortnightly basis we will get emails from usually offshore but it comes down to 'we will buy your e-waste from you', and the majority of the emails do come from Africa, and we've been offered up to $20,000 per shipping container of e-waste, but those guys are out there.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Are there Australian operators who are selling to them?
Geordie Gill: You know, the opportunity is there…yes, I would have to say yes.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Geordie believes there's not enough work being done to police e-waste laws and make sure that broken computers considered hazardous waste are not being exported.
Geordie Gill: I think it's very difficult to regulate or monitor every container that leaves the country. They can be written up on the on the sheet as donations, spare parts, there's lots of different ways of writing it up so it can be exported out the country. It is illegal but we just haven't got the manpower, they have not invested enough time and effort into it and it's just too easy, just too easy.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Remember my guy in the Middle East?
How much did you say you would be able to pay us for the computers?
Dealer: I give you offer, is $500 per tonne, is a thousand kg, right?
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Okay, so you can take our broken computers for $500 a tonne?
Dealer: Yes, per tonne.
Geordie Gill: To have a full container go overseas of mixed e-waste without any major concern, you know, no hurdles to get through, that's a major issue and it needs to be stopped.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: One of the places it ends up is on the Agbogbloshie dump in the West African nation of Ghana.
Local journalist Mike Anane has been reporting on this for 15 years, exposing the health impacts on the children who work the e-waste dump.
On assignment for Background Briefing, Mike found e-waste that could be tracked back to Australia.
Michael Anane: And I can see that you have a monitor here as well. This is a Dell monitor, turn it, let me see. Let me see the other side. Now, this is a Dell monitor and I can see some asset tags here. That's interesting, the asset tag says this comes from St George Bank.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: On the video mike shot, the St George Bank asset tag was clearly visible, and holding the monitor up for Mike's camera was a young boy, who was about to smash it up and throw it on a fire.
Michael Anane: So what is your name?
Amos: My name is Amos.
Michael Anane: Amos, what are you doing here?
Amos: I'm here to take some irons.
Michael Anane: Where do you get the irons from?
Amos: Some laptops and computers, and we break it there is coppers and the other metal.
Michael Anane: So when you are doing this work, breaking the television sets, the computers, the laptops, don't you get sick?
Amos: Well yeah, we get sick on it, so you can be breaking and the glass will hurt your hand or the smoke…you will be burning things and the smoke, you will be coughing, sometimes your head will be paining you, your body too.
Michael Anane: How old are you?
Amos: I'm 14 years.
Michael Anane: How long have you been doing this work?
Amos: About 3 years.
Michael Anane: It's about 3 years.
Amos: Yes.
[Cough, cough]
Michael Anane: Oh, okay, that is quite a chesty cough! So why do you still come here if you get sick and…?
Amos: Cos I need money.
Michael Anane: You need money?
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So how did a St George Bank monitor end up on a dump in Ghana?
It turns out that St George Bank, wholly owned by Westpac, has all its e-waste handled by WorkVentures.
This is Don Quinn:
Don Quinn: Most of our donors or donated computers if you like is Westpac and St George. We would get in the order from both per year between 12,000 and 15,000 PCs, laptops, and their peripherals like the printers and stuff as well.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So that's a lot of computers, that's all the computers for Westpac and St George Bank?
Don Quinn: Correct, it is, yes, and it's also nationally, it's not just Sydney or state based. So we have a guy jumping all over the country just picking up all these disused PC's, laptops, printers, keyboards, mice, there's a whole gamut.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: WorkVentures handles e-waste contracts for some of the biggest corporates in Australia, including McDonalds, 20th Century Fox and IBM. They refurbish working computers and sell them cheaply to community organisations. And as for the rest, they are disposed of through other recyclers.
Don Quinn: They are. Look, most of them come through our program as long term unemployed, youth at risk, that sort of thing. They come through a program with us, we put them downstairs in the re-use program. There's a number of people that are permanent employees and they basically take them under their wing and show them all the ropes about complete refurbishment of a computer or a laptop for that fact. So after a couple of years they become rather proficient in what they're doing and with those skills they go out and look for further employment.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: WorkVentures is able to track what happens to each and every one of the bits of e-waste it gets from Westpac through an asset number.
And so Background Briefing showed Don the footage of the small boy holding the St George monitor on the Agbogbloshie dump in Ghana.
The image I show Don clearly reveals the St George Bank asset label stuck on the monitor the boy is holding.
Now, there's something I just want to show you, and I'd like to show you and just get your thoughts on it, so I'll talk to you through it.
So this is a picture of a dump in Ghana, you might've heard of these places, it's very sad, where children are picking over e-waste that has ended up there, and unfortunately this is the way they do it. This is how they gather the metals. So they're burning off the plastic but unfortunately the toxic fumes from that remain in the dump and affect their health massively. So you've probably seen things like this before, this is…
Michael Anane: How old are you?
Amos: I'm 14 years.
Michael Anane: How long have you been doing this work?
Amos: About 3 years.
Michael Anane: It's about 3 years.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So he's been there since he was 11, this young lad. But what I'm hoping to understand is this image, this was only taken 2 weeks ago, and that was on the dump.
The image I show Don clearly reveals the St George Bank asset label stuck on the monitor the boy is holding.
So that sticker would have been put on by St George?
Don Quinn: As an internal tracking mechanism.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And does it look to you like a St George sticker?
Don Quinn: That is a St George asset, yes.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Most definitely it is a St George asset?
Don Quinn: From looking at that video, yes.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: It would have been once in a St George Bank being worked on in Australia, and it's ended up in Ghana?
Don Quinn: Possibly.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: How does that get onto a Ghanaian dump, one of the worst dumps in the world?
Don Quinn: I wouldn't even like to guess, I really couldn't say.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So any theories on how this has happened?
Don Quinn: No, not really, no.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Don tells me there's no way the St George monitor would have been despatched to Ghana from WorkVentures, which has been handling that bank's e-waste since the Westpac takeover in 2008.
So you feel confident that that computer, that St George Bank computer didn't come from here?
Don Quinn: Certainly not from here.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Even so, Don agrees to check the asset register to make sure.
Don Quinn: We could grab the asset number and look through our database.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Yep? And let us know what you think the pathway might have been?
Don Quinn: Yeah, for certain.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: How long does it take to have a look?
Don Quinn: I'll get it onto the IT team tomorrow, should have it by lunchtime if it's been through our system.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Back in Ghana, journalist Mike Anane is also keen to hear how the monitor ended up on the dump.
Michael Anane: It is very serious, the public has a right to know, it is important that St George and the recyclers are forthcoming with the truth, they need to tell us how this computer monitor got to Ghana.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Mike knows it's illegal to export broken computers out of Australia and that's because our government doesn't want our e-waste to end up on dumps like Agbogbloshie in Ghana.
Michael Anane: It is criminal, it is not just immoral, it is criminal to ship these things here.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: But the hazardous e-waste keeps coming.
Michael Anane: From my observation and research over the years, over 500 container loads of electronic waste are coming from these developed countries, including Australia, every single month. Lately there is so much coming from Australia, I'd say every month we have at least three container loads, I mean from the rounds that I've done I see about three container loads of electronic waste coming from Australia every single month.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: A week passed and WorkVentures replied to our question about the origin of the St George bank monitor that was found on the Ghanaian e-waste dump.
They'd now discovered the monitor did pass through their hands. In an email they said:
Reading: 'We looked up the sticker number on the monitor from the video you showed us and found we picked it up from St George Bank and decommissioned it in May 2012.'
Rebecca Le Tourneau: WorkVentures said the monitor couldn't be repaired and so it was sent on to another recycler.
Reading: 'It was deemed e-waste and sent to an e-waste recycling organisation.'
Rebecca Le Tourneau: From what the ABC can tell, from there the monitor made its way from the recycler to Ghana. WorkVentures told us they had severed their relationship with that recycler in 2012 because they didn't believe its documentation was up to standard. They declined to say if there were other monitors and computers in the batch that found its way to Ghana.
Westpac also declined an interview, but in an email advised:

Reading: 'We donated the monitor to WorkVentures as part of our commitment to support community organisations in Australia and we're disappointed the monitor has ended up in Ghana.'
Rebecca Le Tourneau: The bank said they were conducting an investigation into the discovery, as:
Reading: 'We are determined to work with WorkVentures to understand how this has happened. Westpac Group has a strong track record in sustainable business practices and we've been awarded most sustainable bank globally by Dow Jones numerous times.'
Rebecca Le Tourneau: If Westpac can lose control of its hazardous e-waste, they're not alone.
Mike Anane has been warning western nations for years about the temptation for recyclers to avoid costly, legitimate disposal of what they collect.
Michael Anane: It is cheaper, it is cheaper to ship these things away and ship them to Ghana. Out of sight, out of mind. But it goes somewhere in Ghana, somewhere that you will find children, very young children with no protective gear. Young children with no face mask, young children who sometimes don't even wear flip-flops.
Each time I go to the dump, when I see the smoke, when I see the children with all these open sores, when I see them with the skin diseases and they come to me and tell me, 'Mr Mike, we cannot run, Mr Mike I have a problem with my heart, my heart beats, it beats faster, I cannot play football, I have headaches all the time.' Then they tell me again, 'Mr Mike, I cannot sleep at night.' The impact on the health of these little children is enormous, it's devastating.
I have seen all the wounds on these little kids. It's obvious that these children would not live to see their twentieth birthday. A lot of the kids disappear from the dumps and it's obvious what happens to them.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: How much money do the children make for a day scrabbling for these metals, hurting themselves on the computers while they try and burn them over fires? How much money do they make?
Michael Anane: These children make less than a dollar a day, they make almost nothing. And sometimes they make nothing.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg declined an interview about Australia's e-waste disposal, but we did speak to the opposition's environment spokesman Tony Burke.
What do you want to hear from Westpac about this discovery of one of their St George monitors on the Ghanaian dump with these poor children?
Tony Burke: I don't single out Westpac for the very simple reason that it would be dishonest to presume that they were the only company where this sort of thing may have happened with the stewardship of their products.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: So it's coming from companies all over Australia you feel?
Tony Burke: The only way you deal with this is to say we need to make sure that the waste that is produced in Australia that has these different contaminates in it is properly disposed of.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: And Mr Burke is also concerned for the health of Australians who live in council areas where their e-waste is buried in landfill.
Tony Burke: It's simply not fair that they are put in a situation where they are doing permanent irreversible damage to their soils because they're not getting the support and the coordination that we need.
From the reports that I've seen, as long as you have a situation where you have e-waste going directly to landfill, you have not just an environmental catastrophe, you have a significant health risk to the populations around those areas.
It shouldn't be a complicated ask to say if you've got something that's poisonous, you don't just throw it into the dirt!
Rebecca Le Tourneau: The Federal government has promised a review of the national computer and television recycling scheme, with results expected this year. In the meantime thousands of tonnes of e-waste will continue to be buried underground here.
South Australia is the only state that has legislated to ban e-waste from landfill.
Ian Hunter: We took our time, we started this process off probably back in the mid to late 2000s, 2007-2008, through to 2009.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: This is Ian Hunter, South Australia's Environment Minister:
Ian Hunter: And then we bravely took the bull by the horns and put it through legislation, but that was on the back of talking to people for quite a while, working out the difficulties in their systems, working out how we can get around them and coming up with a better outcome for everybody.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: South Australia has also built the biggest recycling plant in the country, about to be commissioned in Port Pirie. The minister says it could take all our broken computers and e-waste, nationally.
So that'd be the circuit boards, everything that we currently send overseas for recycling could be recycled 100% in South Australia.
Ian Hunter: Yeah, absolutely.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: According to industry leaders, it wouldn't be any more expensive to send all our e-waste to South Australia, but labour costs could be higher than overseas.
Ian Hunter: I've actually written to the federal government and asked them to stop issuing permits for offshore export of e-waste and to look at how we might do it locally. After all, they are the signatories to the overseas convention, international convention that says a country should be responsible for their own e-waste and not exporting it, so we're offering this ability.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Ian Hunter believes we should stop sending all second hand electronic overseas, because we can't keep track of what's legitimate and what's not. This would reduce the risk of unchecked containers of our e-waste arriving in the poorest nations.
And how has the federal government responded to you?
Ian Hunter: Well, they've made nice noises and said yep and will keep telling us how it's going but they haven't committed to helping us, they haven't even committed to not signing export contracts for e-waste, which would be very simple. The minister, as I understand it, by the stroke of a pen can just say no I'm not going to approve any more export of e-waste and you'll have to find a local solution, but to date we haven't had any confirmation that he's prepared to do that.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Environmental researcher Ashleigh Morris believes we ignore the crisis at our peril.
So how would you describe where we're at, at the moment?
Ashleigh Morris: I think the perfect analogy for this is we are standing on the edge of a pool deciding whether we want to learn to swim, and there's a tsunami coming straight at us.
Rebecca Le Tourneau: Background Briefing's co-ordinating producer is Linda McGinness, the series producer is Vivien Altman, sound engineer this week is Leila Shunnar, our executive producer is Wendy Carlisle. I'm Rebecca Le Tourneau.