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The hidden trade in electrical waste

Electrical waste is being illegally exported to China for labour-intensive and environmentally damaging dismantling, according to international action groups.

Greenpeace and the Basel Action Network this week revealed that Chinas insatiable thirst for scrap metal is disguising a hidden trade in waste electronic equipment.

An investigation found that shipments of recyclable steel and copper from the US and Japan often included broken computers and appliances.

These were then scrapped in yards full of labourers with hand tools, and by farmers who cooked circuit boards and components.

The findings will cause concern in the UK, where the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations are set to enforce recovery of such goods from August.

Many scrap ferrous and non-ferrous firms rely on shipments to China, providing a ready-made route for electrical waste.

The pressure groups that conducted the investigation heavily criticised the countries that allow such waste to be exported.

Greenpeace China toxic campaigner Lai Yun said: It is unacceptable when toxic wastes are collected in countries like Japan only to be dumped without concern on China.

It is still abundantly evident that electronic waste is pouring into China through the cracks, and most of it is coming from recycling programmes in countries trying to prevent pollution of their own territory.

Basel Action Network coordinator Jim Puckett added: The real crime here is not the willingness of poor farmers to make a living, the real crime is the unwillingness of countries like the US and Japan to take responsibility for preventing the global dumping of their own toxic waste.

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