Special Investigation

Dumped in Africa: Britain’s toxic waste

Children exposed to poisonous material in defiance of UK law

Tonnes of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps is being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of this country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.

Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.

In a joint investigation by The Independent, Sky News, and Greenpeace, a television that had been broken beyond repair was tracked to an electronics market in Lagos, Nigeria, after being left at a civic amenity site in Basingstoke run by Hampshire Country Council. Under environmental protection laws It was classified as hazardous waste and should never have left the UK.

The television, fitted with a satellite tracking device, was bought by a London-based dealer, one of dozens of operators buying up a significant proportion of the estimated 940,000 tonnes of domestic electronic waste, or e-waste, produced in the UK each year and sending it for export.

Investigators bought back the television after a 4,500-mile journey from Tilbury Docks in Essex to the giant Alaba electronics market in Lagos, where up to 15 shipping containers of discarded electronics from Europe and Asia arrive every day. At least a third of the contents of each container is broken beyond use and transferred to dumps where waste pickers scavenge amid a cocktail of burning heavy metals and dioxins. The television is just one example of a broader problem with the enforcement of the legislation, which permits the export of functioning equipment but prohibits broken electronic goods from being sent outside the EU to a country with a developing economy.

Such is the confused state of the recycling industry, with some local authorities collating figures on the amount of waste being exported and others simply handing the task to sub-contractors, that the e-waste body representing the electronics industry admits abuse is widespread.

Claire Snow, the director of the Industry Council for Equipment Recycling (ICER), told The Independent: “It is clear that the system for collecting equipment which UK householders have thrown away is not working as well as it should.

“On the pretext of re-use, equipment which is clearly not suitable for any type of re-use is effectively being dumped in developing countries.”

Government figures show that 450,000 tonnes of e-waste is currently being treated in accordance with Britain’s waste electronic and electrical equipment laws, which place a responsibility on manufacturers to meet the environmental cost. But with the average Briton throwing away four pieces of e-waste every year, approximately 500,000 tonnes is going unaccounted for. Industry research seen by The Independent estimates that at least 10,000 tonnes of waste televisions and 23,000 tonnes of computers classified as hazardous waste are being illegally exported as part of a wider e-waste market worth “tens of millions of pounds”.

Campaigners say dealers offering around £3 for a television and £1 for a computer monitor to waste sites are undercutting specialist recycling companies, creating a “grey market”.

Britain is responsible for around 15 per cent of the EU’s total e-waste, which is growing three times faster than any other muncipal waste stream.

Martin Hojsik, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International, said: "Companies can stop this illegal toxic trade now by ensuring their goods are free from hazardous components. It is critical they and governments take full responsibility for the safe recycling of their products and put an end to the growing e-waste dumps that are poisoning people."

Bosses at Hampshire County Council last night launched an inquiry into its waste sites but insisted it and its household waste site contractor, Hopkins Recycling, only used dealers who exported functional equipment.

A spokesman for Consumers International, which is campaigning for tightened e-waste controls, said: “The sight of children scavenging toxic wastelands overflowing with the West’s unwanted computers and televisions makes a mockery of international bans to prevent the dumping of e-waste. Western governments, including the UK, have shown little desire to deal with the root cause of this problem.”

Suggested Topics
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Year 4 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 4 Primary Teachers needed Rand...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering