Undercover operation exposes illegal dumping of e-waste in Nigeria

Feature story - February 22, 2009
Following a three-year undercover investigation, we’ve shown once again that electronic waste - like your old TV set - still isn't being responsibly recycled like it's supposed to be. Instead, e-waste is being disguised as second-hand goods and shipped off to Nigeria, where it is sold, scrapped or illegally dumped.

European e-waste arrives illegally in Nigeria to be sold as "second hand goods".

The undercover operation, carried out with the help of Sky Television, is further evidence of the growing trade in hazardous waste from Europe to the developing world due to  electronic companies' failure to take responsibility for recycling their products.

Acting on a tip-off, we launched our operation to see just where some electronic waste was ending up. We took an unfixable TV, fitted it with a tracking device and brought it to the UK's Hampshire County Council for recycling. Instead of being safely dismantled in the UK or Europe, like it should have been, the Council's 'recycling' company, BJ Electronics, passed it on as 'second-hand goods' and it was shipped off to Nigeria to be sold or scrapped and dumped.

Following the e-waste trail - a Greenpeace investigation

It's illegal to export broken electronic goods under EU legislation - at no point before it was crammed into a container with similar TVs and shipped off was the TV turned on or tested to see if it was in working condition. We followed the complete e-waste trafficking route by hiding a tracking device inside the TV that provided location updates via GPS.

Read more about how exactly we tracked the TV all the way to Nigeria.

Nigeria, like Ghana, Pakistan, India and China, is just one of many destinations that Europe, the United States, Japan, South Korea and other developed countries are using as toxic e-waste dumping grounds. For years, we've been exposing the mountains of e-waste that show up on the doorstep of developing countries at the expense of people and the environment. The poorest people, in many cases children, are put to work breaking apart TVs, mobile phones, game consoles and other electronic items that arrive in their tonnes. 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.

Where is your e-waste going?

For the first time we were able to track the e-waste from door to door, exposing the loopholes in recycling programmes that allow illicit profits to be made by the developed world's traders by dumping their obsolete and hazardous electronics abroad instead of properly recycling them. 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 that they will eventually be dumped in places where no facilities exist for safe recycling.

Companies can stop this illegal toxic trade now by making sure their goods are free from hazardous components. We need them to take full responsibility for the safe recycling of their products and put an end to the growing e-waste dumps that poison people and the environment across the developing world. We need companies to introduce voluntary take-back schemes and remove hazardous substances from their products so they can be recycled safely and easily.

Despite the growing evidence of the harm caused by toxic e-waste, many companies are still failing to prioritise the removal of toxic chemicals and delaying taking full responsibility for their products.

Check out the coverage of the undercover investigation at The Independent.

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