Monday

16th Jan 2017

EU law aims to curb dumping of old phones, fridges in Africa

  • Children are sometimes used to collect and dismantle e-waste, says the UN. (Photo: Vibek Raj Maurya)

A European Commission directive aimed at curbing illegal dumping of electronic waste, such as mobiles, computers and refrigerators, in developing countries entered into forced on Monday (13 August).

The commission says the law will require exporters to scrutinise all the equipment before it is placed onto cargo ships. Exporters will also have to provide documents on shipments authorities deem potentially illegal.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"Illegal shipments of WEEE [waste electrical and electronic equipment] are a serious problem, especially when they are disguised as legal shipments of used equipment to circumvent EU waste treatment rules," said the EU executive.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), after a two-year study, released a report earlier this year which details the illegal export and impact of European "e-waste" to Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Liberia.

"Amsterdam, Antwerp ports but also UK ports were also places that were sending used electrical and electronic equipment and e-waste to Africa," Michael Stanley-Jones, a spokesperson from UNEP told EUobserver from Geneva.

"When we looked at the manifest and opened the containers on arrival, we found in different degrees relatively large proportions of the shipments labelled as commodities as used equipment were in fact non-operative and therefore classified under the Basel convention as waste," he said.

Exporters in both the ports in Amsterdam and Antwerp posted misleading labels on some of the shipments destined to the countries in the study.

Electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) were declared as "second-hand goods ... private goods ... for charities ... for personal use ... miscellaneous ... [and] effects personnels."

UN-led investigators also found that the EEE label, in some cases, had been manipulated to disguise the illegal exports.

In some instances, exporters would remove generators from refrigerators in order to classify them as not containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFC).

Customs declarations were then given to authorities on the same day the ocean carrier was set to sail, says the UN report.

"Both the Dutch and Belgian port authorities emphasize that personnel and financial limitations are severe obstacles to achieving better control of exports of used and end-of life EEE."

The study revealed that the UK is the dominant exporting country for EEE, followed, after a large gap, by France and Germany. Nigeria, of the five recipient countries, received the largest amount of EEE, followed by Ghana.

In one case, the investigators monitored 176 containers labelled as EEE entering Nigeria between March and July 2010.

More than 75 percent of all the containers came from Europe with the vast majority being shipped out of the UK's Felixtowe port.

Mercury, cadmium, lead, hexavalent chromium and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and ozone depleting substances are commonly found in the waste. The materials pose a significant safety and health risk to workers and the surrounding environment.

The European Commission says the directive will also impose a collection threshold.

Member states will be required to collect 45 percent of electronic equipment sold starting in 2016 which is then set to increase to 65 percent in 2019. Alternatively, member states can also opt to collect 85 percent of electronic waste generated.

"Member states will be able to choose which one of these two equivalent ways to measure the target they wish to report," said the European Commission in a statement.

Europe generates an estimated annual 9 million metric tonnes of e-waste of which only 3 million tonnes is recycled. The commission believes the volume will increase to 12 million metric tonnes annually by 2020.

Focus

A world without waste

A garbage crisis in Naples, Italy, gave birth to the "zero waste" movement, but is the rest of Europe brave enough to change the way it thinks about trash?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  2. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  3. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  4. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  5. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  6. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  7. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  8. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  9. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  10. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  11. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  12. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities