Posted May 24th, 2011 by Stephen Roper

Environmental Waste Controls (EWC) has recently been linked to the illegal exporting of electronic waste in poor African countries including Ghana and Nigeria.

EWC is currently one of the UK’s leading waste and recycling firms. Their clients include Tesco, Asda, Barclays, the NHS and Network Rail.

A new investigation by Panorama, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and campaigners has found evidence that broken TV sets from EWC’s facilities were exported illegally to Africa. Exporting e-waste to Africa is in contravention with regulations. Under the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Resources Regulations 2006 if e-waste is found to be working when it arrives it can be exported, however broken items cannot be exported abroad.

EWC has admitted that broken TV sets and other electronic equipment from their facilities has ended up in Africa but only after being exported by a third party company. The firm say they will do everything possible to stop this from happening again in the future and have not worked with the third party company since October 2010.

The BBC TV programme Panorama which was broadcast last night (Monday 23rd May 2011) investigated the illegal trade of e-waste and showed viewers other electronic items that were being dumped in third world countries.

The programme and investigation by EIA staff found that at least 7 tonnes of broken TV sets were sold to the third party company every week for between £1.50 and £2 per set. In broken TV sets the EIA put tracking devices to see where they ended up, it was found that one broken TV ended in Ghana and one in Nigeria. The EIA said that this was not a one off and British E-waste was regularly being dumped abroad.

Under current WEEE regulations any broken TV sets that are dropped off should be sent for recycling within the UK or another developed country.

A statement from EWC said “This is completely unacceptable and EWC has put in place measures to prevent a re-occurrence of this practice and to undertake a full investigation in cooperation with the regulator and relevant authorities. We have instructed all our sub contractors that no electronic equipment deposited at designated collection facilities operated by EWC should leave the United Kingdom until further notice.”

Electronic Waste is the quickest growing waste stream in the world with over one million tonnes a year being generated in the UK and fifty million tonnes around the world. Out of all global e-waste being generated its estimated that only 10% is currently being recycled.

In the past few months there have also been a number of raids on companies in the UK in order to enforce the EU’s WEEE directive. The raids in June by the environment agency and police in London were on companies trying to disguise old and broken computers, fridges, monitors and electrical equipment as working so they could be shipped to Africa to be stripped for parts. The law here states that old electrical items must be stripped in the UK and not sent to developing countries such as Africa to be stripped in often disgusting conditions.

In China, India and Africa, many young children are being used in appalling conditions to recover the smallest amount of metal. In China young children are already being found with high levels of chemicals in their blood due to stripping down old electrical items.

The UK environment agency has set up a team to fight this illegal trade. Companies will send these old items abroad in order to save on the costs of stripping the items in the UK, the big prizes will be the gold, silver and steel that can be claimed from this type of electrical waste.

In other European countries there are only around 3 recycling schemes whilst the UK has around 40 which are supposed to buy waste and recycle it on behalf of businesses. One of the biggest problems is businesses not ensuring that their electrical waste is going to the right places. Consumers are also at fault with only 14% of TV’s, 10% of computers, 9% of toasters and 20% of mobile phones being recycled correctly.

If you have any unwanted small electronic items such as mobile phones, digital cameras, games consoles or anything else you can recycle them for cash and do your bit for the environment at O2 Recycle.

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