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Jail “E-Waste Cowboys” Says IT Charity

US and UK governments must clamp down on the export of waste-tech claims the chief executive of Computer Aid

Following the news that US legislation may continue to allow the dumping of electronic waste in the developing world, computer re-use experts have warned that governments must get tougher over cracking-down on the trade.

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Earlier this week legislation designed to curb the US exporting electronic waste to developing countries was criticised by environmentalists who claim the bill has a loophole that could allow exports of waste to continue.

The US bill, H.R. 2595, was introduced by Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), one of Congress’ leading supporters of an e-waste export ban. The legislation generally bans the exporting of any restricted electronic waste but would make exceptions if the exports were intended “for repair or refurbishment”.

The bill’s backers claim the loop-hole is designed to allow end-of-life electronics to be sent to the developing world to help bridge the digital divide. But Tony Roberts (pictured), chief executive of IT charity Computer Aid claims that any legislation that could allow e-waste into developing countries is misguided. “The proposal to allow the transport of eWaste for processing abroad is a license for the e-waste cowboys to continue the toxic trade that is decimating the environment from Nigeria to Asia,” he said.

Although Computer Aid sends donated PCs from UK companies to developing countries – the kind of activity the loophole in the US bill is apparently trying to protect – Roberts argued that refurbishment should be done in the UK and US first so that only working PCs are sent to developing countries.

“The filtering out of ancient and defective equipment must be done in the UK and USA,” said Roberts .”Our refurbihsing centres must clean, test and professionally refurbish all equipment prior to shipment to ensure that we deliver only the highest specification equipment available. We ship nothing less than P4.”

Roberts added that Computer Aid opposes the movement of all e-waste from developed to developing economies and that agencies sending professionally refurbished equipment should be licenced and inspected by the govenment Environment Agency. “Anyone shipping unprocessed WEEE should be jailed,” said Roberts.

Computer maker Dell announced earlier this month that it is tightening up its policies around the export of e-waste to the developing world. The company announced that it has become the first computer maker to ban the export of non-working electronics.

Computer Aid says it has refurbished more than 130,000 PCs and laptops, all of which are being used to support e-learning, e-health, e-inclusion and e-agriculture projects in countries such as Kenya, Madagascar and Zambia.

Meanwhile, BT announced a joint project with UNICEF this week which aims to bring IT to schools in poor rural areas of China. BT said it is investing £500,000 to benefit up to 6,000 students and 1,700 teachers across four provinces – Qinghai, Ningxia, Yunnan and Jiangxi – where there are high-levels of digital exclusion.