British companies are illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of harmful electronic waste such as old computers in West Africa, instead of recycling them, an investigation by an environmental group said on Monday.
Taking advantage of a lack of oversight of recycling procedures, a number of waste management companies are taking unwanted televisions, phones and computers and selling them on to West Africa as goods, especially to Ghana and Nigeria.
“Consignments of such equipment arriving in West African ports are mostly e-waste, with about 75 percent of the electronic units arriving found to be broken,” the report by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said. “Importers seem willing to bring in containers mostly filled with e-waste because demand for electronics is so high that buyers are prepared to purchase untested items,” it said, adding that half a million computers were landing in Nigeria a month.
The group said its report was the product of an 18-month undercover investigation of “recycling companies and waste brokers”, focusing mostly on Britain’s southeast, but saying there was evidence of similar practices throughout the UK.
It also cited huge gaps between projections for the amount of e-waste Britain produces and recorded waste as evidence “the remainder (is) siphoned off onto the black market”. The waste is then often dumped in African rubbish tips, then smashed, burned or stripped down by hand by scavengers, many of them young children, to remove sellable parts like copper wires.
It contains many toxic chemicals, the report said, including “dangerous metals … flame retardants … mercury … (and) large amounts of lead,” so it is likely to be harmful to people living nearby or children who scavenge through dumps. “The potential health consequences for those involved in this kind of work are dire — reproductive and developmental problems, damaged immune, nervous and blood systems, kidney damage and impaired brain development in children.”
The European Parliament proposed stricter rules in February to halt the growth of e-waste. The report said the EU produces 8 million tonnes of it a year and 75 percent is unaccounted for. European Union lawmakers want member states to collect at least 85 percent of discarded electronics by 2016, compared with only 33 percent today, with producers footing the bill.
“EIA’s work clearly demonstrates the UK’s failure to take it’s environmental responsibility seriously,” Fin Walravens, EIA Senior Campaigner said.