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Sky News investigation finds unworkable e-waste being sent to West Africa

A Sky News investigation has found that unworkable electronic waste collected by Hampshire County Council is being sent to Nigeria, West Africa.

The Sky News team partnered up with environmental campaign group Greenpeace to investigate the claim. It planted a satellite tracker in an old television that was unworkable before taking it to the councils recycling centre.

Filming undercover, the Sky News team dropped off its television at a recycling site in Baskingstoke which is managed for Hampshire County Council by a recycling firm called Hopkins. They in turn sell appliances to a firm called BJ Electronics which brought the television.

The Sky News team then followed the television to the BJ Electronics warehouse in Walthamstow, where the firm claimed that it tested every appliance before selling it on to other companies for export.

The team claimed that the satellite tracker eventually showed the broken television in Nigeria. Greenpeace claims that some children in Nigeria are picking up e-waste for valuable copper contained in the appliances. The campaign group claims that children strip the wires and circuit boards then burn off the plastics to extract the metal, unaware they are inhaling carcinogenic chemicals like dioxins in the process (see MRW story).

Hampshire County Council issued the following statement: We are extremely disappointed to learn of the potential findings of the investigation by Sky News. Our primary aim has always been to ensure that waste electrical items are reused wherever possible, and that only functional TVs and monitors are sent aboard. We do not condone the exportation of TVs that cannot be used.

If after our initial inquiry, it is found that our clear requirements are being compromised by inadequate controls we will take immediate action and we will publish our findings.

The Environmental Services Association said that everyone had a role to play in ensuring products are safely and appropriately recycled.

ESA chief executive Dirk Hazell said: Our members operate many excellent civic amenity sites, typically displaying telephone numbers enabling the public to report anything suspicious which they may see. We want the public to sustain confidence in recycling and we encourage the public to use this facility.

While ESA did advise the Government to adopt stricter approaches to producer responsibility, we are where we are. However, it is particularly important, in a context when the Landfill Tax is continuing to rise, that a portion of that increase is earmarked to the Environment Agencys crimebusting activities so Britain is increasingly seen to be a zero tolerance country for environmental crime.

An Environment Agency spokeswoman said that the EA recognised that some waste was being illegally sent overseas. She said: It is always illegal to export waste for disposal - and the last thing we want is our waste causing harm overseas. If the EA receives evidence that broken TVs are being sent to countries that do not have recycling agreements, the EA will investigate and possibly take enforcement action.

Extra steps EA are taking to tackle the issue:
* The EA will be running an awareness campaign this year so businesses better understand their duty of care with electrical waste;
* sharing best practice with other public sector bodies handling electrical equipment;
* and the EA will be working closely with Government to explore whether there is more that can be done on electrical waste.


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