Illegal dumping highlights WEEE weakness

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Illegal dumping highlights WEEE weakness

Waste regulation failing to stop shipments of broken computers to Africa

The UK government has been accused of failing in its duty to enforce its ownelectronic waste regulations, following reports that large quantities of brokenIT equipment are continuing to be dumped illegally in Africa.

Over a year after the introduction of theWasteElectrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, experts claim that thelegislation "lacks teeth" and that its enforcement body, the Environment Agency,is badly under funded.

The Environment Agency has only partially denied the accusations.

The WEEE directive states that IT manufacturers are legally responsible forthe safe disposal of their products.

Manufacturers are obliged to ensure that all products are disposed of in anenvironmentally friendly manner themselves, or to sign up with agovernment-approved waste-handling firm.

However, arecentinvestigation by Greenpeace has revealed that large quantities of brokencomputers, monitors and TVs from manufacturers including Philips, Canon, Dell,Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony are being illegally shipped to Africa to endup in scrap yards in Ghana.

The broken machines are stripped, crushed and burned by workers, many of whomare children, to remove the valuable components and metals.

Greenpeace claims that this process not only pollutes local water tables, butexposes workers to potentially toxic dust and fumes.

Critics claim that the shipment of the broken goods is clearly illegal, butthat the Environment Agency is shying away from its enforcement role and lacksthe resources adequately to police the new rules.

Martin Hojsik, toxics campaigner at Greenpeace International, and the manbehind a lot of the research, said that he had found equipment from the NHS,local councils, schools and universities in the Ghanaian dumps.

A spokesman for the Department of Health maintained that it was not directlyaccountable for the equipment found in Ghana, arguing that it was theresponsibility of local health trusts to ensure WEEE compliance.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency acknowledged that there were fundingissues, adding that the "complexity" of the legislation had made policingdifficult.

Tony Roberts, founder and director of development at Computer AidInternational, agreed that the agency is too low on resources to enforce WEEE.

"The Environment Agency has no staff to oversee those who knowingly flout theWEEE directive, he said.

Roberts has worked with the Environment Agency in his role at Computer Aid, acharity that distributes refurbished computers for reuse in developingcountries. He believes that problem with the WEEE legislation is that it "has noteeth".

Critics suggest that the situation is likely to worsen in the wake of Defrabudget cuts earlier this year that saw the Environment Agency slash funding forwaste management programmes by 38 per cent.

The move was criticised earlier this week by the House of Lords which urgedthe government to reverse budget cuts to green business support agencies.

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