Businesses are fuelling the illegal export of e-waste to developing countries by failing to audit recycled computer equipment, according to a report.
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The study released by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) shows criminals purchase e-waste from "less scrupulous" computer recycling companies, resulting in old IT equipment being sold on the black market instead of being recycled in compliance with the law.
"By failing to audit and verify the final destination of e-waste, many companies are facilitating this harmful and illegal trade," said the report.
"The EIA's work clearly demonstrates the UK's failure to take its environmental responsibility seriously," said EIA senior campaigner Fin Walravens.
Undercover work by the agency found asset tags used by UK companies and government agencies to deter theft on old computers at a dump site in Nigeria.
"Our e-waste is not a new problem and it is not going away. It is time for the government and enforcement agencies to give this issue the resources and attention it warrants," said Walravens.
Waste cathode ray tubes (CRTs) found in PC monitors can be highly lucrative on the international e-waste black market.
A UK electrical recycling company recently faced prosecution costs of £8,200 for illegally shipping old computers and electrical waste to Afghanistan.
- Read the full report here: System failure: The UK's harmful trade in electronic waste.
|Environment Agency's top 10 tips on e-waste for businesses|
1. Keep broken and working equipment separate and ensure all items are appropriately labelled to identify their status.
2. Working equipment can be sold for reuse, but first make sure sensitive data has been permanently removed.
3. Broken waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) will normally be regarded as rubbish, but that does not mean it has to be disposed of. WEEE can be sent for repair and then reused, or for treatment and recycling.
4. Ensure you have a written procedure for dealing with unwanted WEEE and make sure that every employee understands it and the risks of equipment falling into the wrong hands.
5. Regularly check that your unwanted WEEE is being dealt with in line with this agreed procedure.
6. Some WEEE is classified as hazardous waste and you must ensure it is accompanied by a hazardous waste consignment note. All other waste must be accompanied by a waste transfer note.
7. Check that the contractor who collects your waste is a registered waste carrier or other approved person. Ask them to produce evidence - or if you are based in England or Wales you can check this with the Environment Agency.
8. Do not accept vague reassurances from contractors. Find out what they will do to your equipment and where it will end up. Ask to see evidence that the waste treatment site they are taking it to holds an appropriate environmental permit or registered exemption. If in doubt, contact the Environment Agency.
9. Be suspicious of any contractor who only provides a mobile phone number, offers free collection or even offers to pay for WEEE regardless of condition. Be sure to ask questions of them - for example, how will they finance proper treatment of the broken equipment?
10. If you have been approached by a contractor who you believe is operating illegally, contact the Environment Agency.
Environment Agency contacts
Tel: 08708 506506