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22nd Jun 2018

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.

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"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.

New electronic waste law to come into force

Under rules coming into force on Saturday customers will be able to hand in their old electronic goods when buying new devices at shops throughout the EU. However, many member states are dragging their feet on implementing the law.

EU to phase out most harmful biofuels

EU negotiators have reached a deal on a new renewable energy directive. 'One of the most sensitive issues during the negotiations was biofuels from food and feed crops,' said MEP Bas Eickhout.

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