Future of NW e-recycler unclear after fraud sentences

SEATTLE (AP) — The future of one of the Northwest’s largest electronics recyclers is uncertain after a judge sentenced its founders to prison for what prosecutors described as the largest known fraud of its type in the nation: a seven-year scheme to ship dangerous waste to Hong Kong, rather than safely handling it in the U.S. as promised.

Total Reclaim Inc., based in the Seattle suburb of Kent, recycles electronics as well as refrigerants and other toxic materials from government and private organizations in Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

It held itself out as a leader in environmental stewardship, promising to safely dispose of items such as mercury-containing flat-screen television monitors for clients who included the cities of Seattle and Juneau, Alaska; the University of Washington; and Oregon and Washington state’s E-Cycle programs.

Instead, as the independent watchdog group Basel Action Network discovered by tracking Total Reclaim’s shipments, the company was secretly selling the monitors to another business, which was then sending them to Hong Kong to be dismantled by low-wage workers without proper health protections. The company sent 430 shipping containers carrying more than 8 million pounds of monitors overseas, putting workers and their families at risk of organ damage and mental impairment.

Total Reclaim’s owners, Jeff Zirkle and Craig Lorch, falsified hundreds of documents to cover it up when confronted, as they acknowledged in plea agreements and in statements to the court as they were sentenced to 28 months in prison Tuesday. Both addressed the court, saying they were ashamed of what they had done.

“You only stopped because you got caught,” U.S. District Judge Richard Jones told them. “Why did you have to do this? You had a successful business.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Wilkinson described the motive as greed: Total Reclaim wasn’t prepared to recycle the flat-screen monitors it began accepting around 2008.