UK Fuels e-Waste Black Market

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An investigation found British e-waste made its way illegally to African nations for disposal

The UK plays a key role in the illegal electronic waste trade, where nonfunctional electronics are exported to West African countries, it has been discovered.

A number of broken television sets deposited at “one of the UK’s leading waste and recycling companies” Environment Waste Controls (EWC) were illegally dumped in Nigeria and Ghana by a third party company, according to campaigners from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Acknowledging the investigation’s findings, the recycling company issued a statement, condemning the illegal trade as “unacceptable” and vowed not to let it happen again.

“We have instructed all our sub contractors that no electronic equipment deposited at designated collection facilities operated by EWC should leave the UK until further notice,” reads the statement.

e-Waste black market

According to the EIA report, which is due to be published next week, the UK’s waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is “regularly diverted” from local authority sites into the black market, before ending up in poor African nations.

Without being properly processed, this e-waste is likely to cause hazardous impacts on the environment as well as people’s health.

As part of their investigation into how British WEEE is ending up overseas and is poorly handled, the EIA staff visited civic amenity sites in Merton and Croydon where e-waste collection is run by EWC. They were informed that the electronic waste was collected by a third-party company who then shipped it to Nigeria and Ghana.

At least seven tonnes of TVs deposited at the Merton amenity site were being sold to the third party company each week, at a cost of between £1.50 and £2 per set.

Besides EIA campaigners, a BBC Panorama programme has also investigated the e-waste black market, where it uncovered further evidence of UK nonfunctional electronics on its way to West Africa.

WEEE Regulations

Under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Resources Regulations 2006, electronic equipment can be legally exported as long as it is tested and found to function properly when arriving at the sites. But according to EIA staff, there rarely is a proper check.

The investigation team hid tracking devices inside television sets which had been disabled beyond repair and left them at the Merton and Croydon sites. Several weeks later, GPS signals indicated that one of them had been shipped to Nigeria, ending up near a well known e-waste recycling centre, while another was found to have arrived in Ghana.

“When disposing of used electrical goods at civic amenity sites, the public has a right to expect that the equipment will be disposed of in accordance with the law,” said the group.

Meanwhile, EWC said it has not worked with the third-party company dumping the faulty TVs in Africa since October last year.

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