Bonney Lake man paid millions to recycle electronics guilty of diverting them to Hong Kong

Old computer keyboards fill a box at a recycling company in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2013.
Old computer keyboards fill a box at a recycling company in Santa Ana, Calif., in 2013. MCT

Owners of a company that was paid millions to safely recycle electronics instead secretly sent them to Hong Kong for disposal, which put workers and the environment at risk, the U.S. Attorneys Office said in a press release.

Jeff Zirkle, 55 of Bonney Lake, and 61-year-old Craig Lorch of Seattle pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

They face up to five years in prison at sentencing next year.

Their company, Total Reclaim, is the largest electronic-waste recycler in the Northwest.

They recycled electronics for the City of Seattle and other customers and also handled electronics for the E-Cycle Washington program, which “allows consumers to drop off used electronics at stations such as Goodwill Industries, and pays companies like Total Reclaim to recycle to those electronics according to Washington Department of Ecology standards,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote.

Total Reclaim reportedly sent more than 8 million pounds of flat-screen monitors to Hong Kong from 2008 to 2015 to cut costs, and Zirkle and Lorch allegedly used false records to hide what was happening.

“These defendants held their company out as one of the good guys, signing agreements promising they would keep hazardous materials out of the environment,” U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in the release. “But even as they made that pledge, they secretly shipped millions of flat screen monitors to Hong Kong where disposal practices endangered workers and the environment.

“Their actions were driven by greed and a total disregard for the promises they had made. As a result customers unknowingly ended up harming the environment rather than protecting it as they intended.”

They were exposed when a non-governmental organization known as the Basel Action Network put tracking devices on monitors, dropped them off for recycling and later found them in Hong Kong “being dismantled by laborers who smashed the monitors apart without any precautions to protect the workers or the environment,” the release said.

Mercury in such monitors can damage organs and cause mental impairment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office noted.