UK Tightens Tech Recycling – While Toxic Waste Leaks To Africa

In the same week that the UK updated its electronics recycling laws, a Nigerian national has been questioned by police over the illegal export of waste technology

The UK has updated its main regulations governing the environmental disposal of used IT and other tech hardware but cases are still emerging of electronic waste being shipped illegally to developing countries for disposal.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) announced that it has updated the UK’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment laws to help improve the amount of old technology hardware which is recycled and kept out of landfill.

WEEE directive delays


WEEE The WEEE directive was adopted by the EC in 2003 but wasn’t actually enacted and enforced in UK law until mid 2007. EC authorities actually went as far as to issue a written warning to the UK government for dragging its heels over implementing the legislation.

The photo (left) shows the WEEE Man, a sculpture made in 2005 by the RSA to promote the WEEE directive.

The WEEE directive was developed to try and tackle the increasing amounts of technology-related junk – not just from IT – that was entering the waste stream and often ending up in landfill. The directive forced producers – such as IT manufacturers and even importers – to take financial responsibility for the recycling and disposal of a proportion of waste tech dependent on their size and contribution.

The government said the update to the laws should help improve the amount of WEEE which is collected amid some criticism that not enough unwanted equipment was being diverted into the scheme.

“I am confident these changes will bring benefits and encourage increased cooperation between stakeholders, to raise collection levels in the future,” said minister for Business Ian Lucas.

Lucas added that the updated regulations should also help recycling facilities – also known as the treatment sector – find it easy to deal with WEEE while also make the system simpler for the original producers of the technology. “These amending Regulations will help streamline the WEEE system and ensure producer compliance schemes continue to take an active role in the environmentally sound disposal of unwanted equipment,” he said.

But the update to the WEEE regulations come amid continuing concern about waste technology from the UK bypassing local recycling systems completely and being shipped illegally to developing countries to be broken down on and sold on the black-market. Such underground recycling is often conducted in dangerous conditions for workers and can cause leeching and other damage to the local environment.

According to reports in the Independent this week, the head of an alleged UK tech recycling operation has been questioned by police over illegal shipments of waste electronics to the Nigerian city of Lagos. The investigation by The Independent, Sky News and Greenpeace apparently showed how a broken television was shipped from the UK to an electronics market in the city.

Experts on the use of technology in developing countries have warned for some time that UK authorities could do more to curb the illegal export of electronic waste.