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The British government needs to tighten up the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive to prevent e-waste being illegally exported to and dumped in the developing world, according to a charity group.

Computer Aid International has launched a petition today calling on the UK gov to provide the Environment Agency with the resources needed to “effectively police” the WEEE directive.

It said that countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and China were taking the brunt of dumped hazardous waste exported from the UK, where the charity claimed that “cowboy commercial traders” were “actively abusing re-use and recycling initiatives”.

The group also hit out at computer vendors (though it didn’t name names), saying that some have “shirked responsibility” for their equipment dumped in developing countries.

Computer Aid CEO Louise Richards said that the current legislative framework is not far-reaching enough to deal with the e-waste problem. She quoted recent figures from Consumers International that highlighted how in Nigeria alone more than half a million second-hand PCs arrive in Lagos every month, even though only one in four works.

"The Environment Agency must be provided with the resources to police e-waste, prosecute anyone involved in a supply chain that results in the dumping of e-waste and remove licences from organisations in breach of the WEEE legislation,” she said.

“It's imperative that the government clamps down on fraudulent traders posing as legitimate re-use and recycling organisations, who are enticing unwitting UK businesses to use them for disposal of electrical equipment.”

Richards said that rogue traders fail to declare the contents of their shipments as hazardous e-waste and instead claim to be carrying electrical kit destined for productive re-use. The waste is manually scavenged for metals – often by children who disassemble the equipment – then stripped down and incinerated in the open air, she added.

In July the UK government said it was pleased with how the WEEE disposal scheme was working out, a year on from its inception. It said that collection had exceeded the EU target by 2kg per person.

Up to now the government has adopted a softly-softly approach – no electronics producers were punished for non-compliance in the first year of the directive. But in a speech to WEEE stakeholders in July, Department of Business Minister Malcolm Wicks called on electronics vendors to raise their game:

"I cannot and will not let any producer compliance scheme running with its own agenda threaten the whole system and we will be working with the enforcement authorities to ensure that those that wish to distort the system are dealt with effectively." ®

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