Information about how we are working to prevent the illegal export of e-waste to developing countries
What is e-waste?
Electrical waste, or e-waste, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the western world. It includes broken computers, TVs and refrigerators which contain hazardous materials such as mercury, arsenic and lead.
How should e-waste be disposed of?
Working electrical equipment can be exported for use overseas. However, it is always illegal to export hazardous e-waste from the UK for disposal to developing countries.
Illegal exporters of e-waste undermine law-abiding recycling businesses and risk harm to human health and the environment in the recipient country.
Waste companies, local authorities and businesses all have a legal responsibility to ensure hazardous e-waste is dealt with properly and not illegally exported. We urge these organisations to obtain evidence that the e-waste they have collected from them is being properly treated at a legitimate facility.
Organisations shouldn’t rely on vague assurances from their contractors and subcontractors. Businesses that collect waste need to be registered waste carriers and the sites they use require an environmental permit or an appropriate registered exemption from permitting.
Organisations can check with us that their contractor is registered to carry waste and that the sites where e-waste is being stored or treated have the appropriate permits. We can also advise contractors of the controls that apply to the export of e-waste or components and materials from the treatment of e-waste.
Individual householders looking to dispose of an unwanted electronic item can:
- Sell or donate working electronic equipment (this isn’t regarded as waste)
- Return unwanted equipment to a retailer offering in-store take-back or have it collected when a replacement equipment is delivered
- Take unwanted equipment to a Local Authority household waste recycling centre.
How are we preventing illegal e-waste export?
We have a National Intelligence Team and a National Environmental Crime Team. As part of their remit, these teams are tasked with preventing the illegal export of e-waste.
They use an intelligence-led approach to target the most prolific, serious and organised illegal waste exporters. This has led to a 98 per cent success rate* of finding electrical waste when stopping targeted shipping containers.
In order to work effectively and efficiently, we share intelligence with the police, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the Borders Agency, local authorities and key waste sector representatives.
We also share intelligence with 42 countries world wide through the INTERPOL Global E-waste Crime Group and work with other European and US competent authorities and regulators.
Using this intelligence, other organisations are able to further prevent and disrupt illegal waste exports using their powers. For example, shipping lines have refused to accept bookings from operators they regard as 'high risk'. As a result, we have an international reputation for leading on combating illegal waste exports.
At the 2010 Interpol Environmental Crime Conference, US speaker Dr Edmund F McGarrell, Director and Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University, said:
'We are extremely impressed with the Environment Agency's proactive, risk-based, intelligence-ed enforcement strategy. Indeed, I spend a considerable amount of time working with U.S. law enforcement agencies on intelligence-led policing and I would hold the Environment Agency's Securing Compliant Waste Export Project efforts as a model for this approach.'