Tonnes of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps is being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of this country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.
Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.
It all sounds really nasty, but lets face it, lots of Africa is even nastier.
In a joint investigation by The Independent, Sky News, and Greenpeace, a television that had been broken beyond repair was tracked to an electronics market in Lagos, Nigeria, after being left at a civic amenity site in Basingstoke run by Hampshire Country Council. Under environmental protection laws It was classified as hazardous waste and should never have left the UK.
Under whose environmental protection laws, I wonder. Anyway ...
Investigators bought back the television after a 4,500-mile journey from Tilbury Docks in Essex to the giant Alaba electronics market in Lagos, where up to 15 shipping containers of discarded electronics from Europe and Asia arrive every day. At least a third of the contents of each container is broken beyond use and transferred to dumps where waste pickers scavenge amid a cocktail of burning heavy metals and dioxins. The television is just one example of a broader problem with the enforcement of the legislation, which permits the export of functioning equipment but prohibits broken electronic goods from being sent outside the EU to a country with a developing economy.
Right, so let me get this straight: we have waste that we don't want. Someone a) buys it; b) pays to ship it somewhere that someone will buy it and c) yet another person makes a living recycling this crap into new goods ... ?
What the hell is wrong with that? Sure, part c) is not a life we'd want to lead today, but it is exactly the kind of life we would have lead a hundred years ago. Nigeria and Ghana aren't first-world countries with first-world lifestyles and first-world environmental regulations. They're nations filled with starving people trying to claw themselves up the economic pole. Their recycling of our "e-waste" actually allows them to do this.
One day some other country with no economy and extreme poverty will be fighting over the rights to recycle the e-waste from Ghana. And thanks to stupid EU laws, an obsession with elfin safety and the Gorgon's economic competence, that will probably be us.