Europe is shipping huge amounts of toxic electronic waste to developing countries. This is revealed in a new investigation by Basel Action Network (BAN). BAN secretly installed GPS trackers in 314 old computers, printers and monitors. Two years later, the group found that 19 of the tracked scraps were exported, including 11 illegal shipments to Ghana, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand and Ukraine.
The investigation sheds light on the illegal trade of electronic waste from EU countries to Asia and Africa, where entire communities are exposed to pollution from burning or chemical acid stripping methods used to extract copper, gold, steel and aluminium.
The investigation points the finger at several EU countries. The country exporting the most e-waste was the UK with five exports, followed by Denmark and Ireland with three each. BAN estimates more than 300 000 metric tonnes are illegally shipped from EU to developing countries every year - enough to fill more than 17 000 shipping containers.
Exporting e-waste from EU to developing countries is illegal, but European recyclers have developed scams to export e-waste as reusable products rather than hazardous waste.
“Once a product can no longer be reused, the waste should remain in Europe where valuable materials can be extracted safely and put back on the market”, says Piotr Barczak, waste expert with the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).
The big e-waste problem also received attention at the World Economic Forum meeting in January, where a new report on the issue was presented by the UN. The study concludes: “Electronic waste remains a largely unused, yet growing, valuable resource”.