Africa will not be Europe's digital dumping ground, say leaders
15 August 2013
African countries demand tougher laws to end influx of electronic waste amid renewed concerns over toxic components.
African countries have demanded action to stem the import of electronic waste, including old computers and mobile telephones from Europe, where stringent environmental laws make exporting used goods cheaper than disposing of them at home.
In a document released this week, African countries that adopted an international convention on hazardous waste called for uniform action to end the import of discarded electronic goods containing dangerous components. In some cases , the products are sent as donations for re-use, even though they are no longer useful.
In response to the trade in e-waste, the EU took steps in 2012 to strengthen its export laws to prevent the dumping of electronic goods in Africa.
The update to the 2003 waste from electrical and electronic equipment (Weee) directive followed hard-fought bargaining over how to improve the recovery of computers and other electronic and electrical waste, much of which was either dumped in landfills or shipped abroad for disposal because of the high cost of recycling in Europe.
In June, signatories to the Bamako convention on the export of hazardous waste to Africa met in the Malian capital for the first time since the international agreement was formed in 1991. In its final declarations, released on Tuesday, the African representatives called for enforcement of the convention and for tougher national laws.
The Bamako meeting marked "the first time African parties have by themselves called for rigorous action to prevent e-waste dumping", noted the Basel Action Network, which campaigns against the trade in toxic waste.
EU's revamped Weee law
Under the Weee legislation, EU countries will have to recover 45 tonnes of e-waste for every 100 tonnes of electronic goods sold by 2016, rising to 65% of sales by 2019 - or 85% of all e-waste generated. Newer member countries get an extension until 2021.
In approving the rules on 7 June 2012, the EU council expanded the directive to include solar panels, fluorescent lighting containing mercury, and equipment containing ozone-depleting substances. EU countries have until 14 February 2014 to adopt the directive into their national laws.
Barely one-third of such items are recycled at home, researchers say; the bulk goes into landfills. But thousands of tonnes of electronic goods are exported because secondhand computer components and recycled metals are lucrative commodities for poorer countries.
The new Weee directive requires national governments to provide information on where goods can be recycled, including in-store facilities for smaller electronic goods such as mobile telephones. It also calls on national governments to more rigorously enforce exports of e-waste.
The UN environment programme's 2012 report, Where are Weee in Africa, says about 220,000 tonnes of electrical and electronic goods were shipped from the EU to west Africa in 2009.
In Ghana 30% of imports of allegedly secondhand products were useless, despite EU efforts calling for electronic goods to have some reusable value. Overall, the UN report shows that about 85% of containers arriving in Ghana with electrical and electronic goods came from Europe, with 4% from Asia.
Authorities say illicit waste is typically hidden in containers carrying legitimate cargo to thwart customs inspections. The UN environment programme has called for better controls in Africa, where the homegrown e-waste problem is also growing.
In a related waste export matter, the EU is moving to end the practice of "beaching" old ships in foreign countries.