comment on this article

Illegal electronic waste

According to a new report that tracked shipments from 10 European countries over two years, the UK has been found to be the worst offender in Europe for illegally exporting toxic electronic waste to developing countries.

The investigation, which was carried out by the environmental watchdog the Basel Action Network (BAN), used GPS trackers to monitor equipment, such as monitors and computers, that were placed in recycling facilities in 10 European countries. Those items were then tracked and ended up in Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand and Ukraine.

According to the EU, toxic waste is hazardous as it contains a variety of substances such as lead and mercury. The export of this waste to non-OECD or non-EU countries is meant to be illegal under EU law.

Disappointingly, the UK came top of the list of suspected illegal shipments although Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Germany were also found to be exporting waste illegally.

Shockingly, by extrapolating those illegal exports with figures on electronic waste generated throughout Europe, BAN has estimated that over 350,000 metric tonnes of electronic waste could be illegally being shipped from the EU each year.

That should be a real concern for the electronics industry.

As Jim Puckett, director of BAN said, these illegal shipments perpetuate an EU waste management regime that’s built "on the backs of the poor and vulnerable." It also suggests that a very significant stream of illegal hazardous shipments of electronic scrap is being shipped, seriously undermining EU claims that it is working hard to prevent this kind of trade.

This waste is particularly dangerous in some of these recipient countries because, as the report stated, due to a lack of proper waste management there is open burning of e-waste, which then leads to the contamination of local crops as well as having a significant impact on the health of the local population.

The UK Environment Agency has responded by saying that while it takes these matters seriously – as it should – the challenge is vast.

While there are problems associated with tracking this trade, more should be done to prosecute those taking advantage of this illegal trade.

Despite regulation export rates are far too high and, in truth, the figure of 350,000 tonnes could be little more than the tip of a very large iceberg.

More worryingly, there is a large business lobby that is seeking to allow low value electronic waste to be shipped because it will be ‘repaired’ in developing countries – the loosest of loopholes!

Hopefully politicians here and in the EU will block this underhand attempt at exporting our electronic waste and focus on effectively tackling this dangerous trade.

Neil Tyler

Comment on this article

This material is protected by MA Business copyright See Terms and Conditions. One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not. For multiple copies contact the sales team.

What you think about this article:


It is about time the UK government showed leadership, and especially over our natural environment. They say one thing in soundbites like reducing emissions of CO2, but foist fracking upon us. We generate far too much waste like single-use plastics, but the source (I.E. supermarkets) are never brought to book. High business rates, restrictive parking and red tape put the smaller corner shops out of business, so we are forced to shop in supermarkets.

Electronic wastes is another aspect of cynical unfettered capitalism-built in obsolescence. Computers are more-or-less redundant as soon as they are sold. This is deliberate. Chip makers develop even faster chips capable of performing billions of tasks per second. So, what do the programmers do, mince out even more bloated systems. We need to sort this "churn" at source. How about forcing the manufacturers and retailers to take back redundant waste?

Posted by: Michael Kerton, 11/02/2019

Add your comments


Your comments/feedback may be edited prior to publishing. Not all entries will be published.
Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Related Articles