The NGO’s report, entitled ‘System Failure: The UK’s harmful trade in electronic waste’, was the result of an 18-month undercover operation. While the European Union regulations e-waste to be properly recycled, either here or in other developed countries, the investigation found that the chance to profit at the expense of the developing world is too tempting for some to resist.
In Africa the illegally exported waste is stripped down to bare components using primitive and dangerous methods. For example, copper wires are set alight to remove flame-resistant coatings and CRT monitors are smashed with hammers, with potential health consequences for workers as well as toxic impact on the environment.
The undercover investigation was the basis for a BBC programme ‘Track My Trash’ broadcast on Monday.
As a result of the investigation the EIA has made a number of recommendations to the UK Government, including:
• The Government should ensure continued funding for the Environment Agency (EA) to develop its intelligence-led enforcement. The EA should also tighten its procedures for the licensing of treatment facilities and contractors, including increased spot-check visits.
• The right to award Producer Compliance Schemes contracts should be taken out of the hands of local authorities and centralised in the relevant Government ministry. The Government should conduct a review of the system to reduce their number and set a realistic price for recycling.
• The Government should commission a review of existing contracts between local authorities and Producer Compliance Schemes to ensure the schemes actually have the infrastructure to carry out recycling.
• All unwanted electronic and electrical equipment left at Designated Collection Facilities, such as civic amenity sites, should be quantified and recorded.
• A company being investigated by the authorities for suspected illegal trade in e-waste should be barred from further export activities until the case is resolved. Also, Producer Compliance Schemes holding the contract for sites from where e-waste has been illegally exported should lose their contract after a successful prosecution.
Having seen the TV programme based on the research, its hard not to agree with all the EIA’s recommendations.