Greenpeace undercover operation exposes illegal dumping of e-waste in Nigeria

Electronics companies must take responsibility for recycling their products

Press release - 18 February, 2009
Electronic waste intended for recycling is being illegally exported from the United Kingdom to Nigeria disguised as second-hand goods, Greenpeace exposed in an undercover operation. Nigeria is just one of many destinations for the developed world's toxic e-waste.

The operation, carried out with Sky television, highlights how electronic companies' failure to take responsibility for recycling their products is expanding the trade in hazardous waste from Europe to the developing world, poisoning people and the environment(1).

"Companies can stop this illegal toxic trade now by ensuring their goods are free from hazardous components. It is critical they take full responsibility for the safe recycling of their products and put an end to the growing e-waste dumps that are poisoning people and the environment across the developing world," said Martin Hojsík Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner(2).

The poorest people, in many cases children, break apart TVs, mobile phones, game consoles and other electronic items that arrive in their tonnes across the developing world. With no safety measures, they are exposed to highly toxic chemicals, including mercury, which damages the brain; lead, which can damage reproductive systems; and cadmium, which causes kidney damage.

Acting on a tip-off, Greenpeace launched an undercover operation, taking an irreparably broken TV, fitted with a tracking device, to the UK's Hampshire County Council for recycling. Instead of being safely dismantled in the UK or Europe, as required by law, the Council's 'recycling' company, BJ Electronics, passed it on as 'second hand goods' after which it ended up in Nigeria.

At no point, before being crammed into a container with similar TVs and shipped, was it tested to see if it worked. It is illegal to export broken electronic goods under EU legislation(3). Greenpeace followed the complete e-waste trafficking route by hiding a tracking device inside the TV that provided location updates via GPS.

Thousands of old electronic goods and components leave the EU for Africa every day, despite regulations prohibiting the trade in e-waste. Some will be repaired and reused, but many are beyond repair meaning they will eventually be dumped in countries where no facilities exist for safe recycling. Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea are using developing countries, including Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, India and China, as toxic e-waste dumping grounds.

Electronics manufacturers need to increase their efforts to collect and responsibly treat e-waste. It is vital they introduce voluntary take-back schemes and remove hazardous substances from their products so they can be recycled more safely and easily.

Other contacts: Martin Hojsík Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner
+421 905 313 395

Erik Albertsen, Greenpeace Nordic Toxics Campaigner
+45 2612 1160

Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner
+44 (0) 780 121 2992

Press desk, Greenpeace International
+31 (0) 20 718 2470

Photo desk: Nick Cobbing, Greenpeace Picture Desk
+44 (0) 7973 642 103

Notes: (1) E-waste is one of the fastest growing types of hazardous waste with up to 80% of e-waste from Europe failing to be disposed of safely.

(2) Even for those companies that report the take-back and recycling of their own-brands, the hidden flow of e-waste branded products currently amounts to an average of 91% of past sales. For PCs only about 10% of own-branded end-of-life products were recycled globally in 2006 and 2007 according to four PC manufacturers, and 2-3% of mobile phones. See:'Not in Our Backyard'

(3) The TV we tracked was irreparably broken and therefore should be classified as waste. Due to its composition (which includes CRT glass that has lead) it should be classified under entry A1180 of Annex V, Part 1 (1), List A of the European Union Regulation on Shipments of Waste (Regulation (EC) 1013/2006) under which it is classed as hazardous waste. Article 36.1 (a) of this regulation prohibits the export of waste classified as hazardous to non-OECD countries, which includes Nigeria.

Related links:

Online version of this news story

Full online audio slideshow of the investigation

E-waste audio slide-show report Ghana - Poisoning the Poor

E-waste audio slide-show - Scrap Life in Pakistan

E-waste in India and China