We should not ship our harmful waste abroad

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The Independent Online

The formidable mountain of disused fridges polluting the landscape near Manchester is, thankfully, the exception that proves a more heartening rule. Two years ago, this country was hopelessly ill-equipped to comply with new European Union regulations on treating the CFCs found in old refrigerators. Now, by and large, disposal facilities have caught up. Greater Manchester has run into specific difficulties with the disposal company it licensed. The fridge mountain is the result.

The formidable mountain of disused fridges polluting the landscape near Manchester is, thankfully, the exception that proves a more heartening rule. Two years ago, this country was hopelessly ill-equipped to comply with new European Union regulations on treating the CFCs found in old refrigerators. Now, by and large, disposal facilities have caught up. Greater Manchester has run into specific difficulties with the disposal company it licensed. The fridge mountain is the result.

While not typical, this disfiguring relic provides a timely reminder of what must be avoided as the date for complying with the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive approaches. This measure, which comes into effect in Britain next August, requires businesses to meet the costs of collecting, treating and recycling waste from all electronic and electrical equipment.

Making businesses responsible for the costs of treating, or safely disposing of, the harmful waste from the products they sell means that there should be no ambiguity about who pays for what - and so less opportunity for buck-passing. The year's lead time before the new measures become law should have given ample time for preparation. And local authorities appear reasonably confident that we will not be looking at mountains of used computers this time next year. Even the veteran environmental campaigners, Friends of the Earth, say they have, as yet, detected no serious signs of major hitches ahead.

If so, this is evidence that the lesson from the fridge mountains has been learnt. Recycling regulations must be clear; they must stipulate who picks up the bill, and there must be sufficient time to prepare. At the same time, local authorities, agencies and businesses must all understand that such provisions are for real. The fact that they originated in Brussels does not mean that they will not pass into law here or that they can be ignored.

Where closer scrutiny is undoubtedly needed is in the growing practice of shipping polluting waste abroad, usually to poor countries that see little choice but to mortgage their environmental future against much needed funds. We should not be cleaning up our own countries by polluting others.

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