WEEE recycling has not been optional for businesses in the UK. Since the 2007 Directive placed the responsibility for end life product disposal firmly on the shoulders of any company that manufactures, retails, otherwise distributes, stores or disposes of electrical or electronic equipment – failure to comply is creating devastating consequences for developing countries that accept black market e-waste. While it has always been legal to ship functional equipment out of the UK, it is not acceptable to dump off containers full of broken equipment into African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.
Recent investigations by agencies such as Consumers International and the Environmental Investigation Agency have proven that struggling third world countries have quietly become the world’s largest e-waste dump sites for technologically advanced Western countries. Some figures suggest that two thirds of today’s electronic waste is being secretly shipped out of the country under the guise of “household effects” or “personal possessions”. The European Parliament wants to see illegal shipments reduced to less than 15% by the year 2016, and the expectation is that manufacturers will pick up the responsibility and expense to see that this reduction occurs.
WEEE recycling can be done directly by each business through collection locations that are easily available to the public. From there, returned equipment can be checked for functionality or repair potential. Donations to under-privileged individuals or groups could be promoted through tax credit incentives. Currently, as little as 10%–15% of the UK’s e-waste is actually being recycled, due to the inconvenience and expense involved in the process. Whether or not government incentives sweeten the prospect, manufacturers and distributors must comply with the 2007 WEEE recycling directive.
Ethically, it is in the best interests of businesses to not only enjoy the profit that modern technology makes possible, but to also invest in the responsibility that comes with being part of an electronically advanced society. Caring for this planet is the responsibility of all, but particularly those who have the financial means and abilities to “clean up their own mess” – so to speak. Poorer regions such as Africa, China and India lack the resources or public education to protect themselves from toxic practices such as e-waste dumping. The fact that the long term damage to people and environment from poisons such as lead, mercury and cadmium is well known makes this matter even more egregious.
A PROPER BUSINESS RESPONSE…
For WEEE recycling to be successful, local businesses and authorities must become honest in their reporting procedures. With about 450,000 tonnes of e-waste being currently processed in the UK, the whereabouts of the remaining 500,000 tonnes are a poorly disguised mystery. Presently it is too easy and too profitable to hand off unwanted electrical equipment to unscrupulous brokers who will ship it out of the country as quickly as possible.
Secondly, licensed WEEE recycling centers must be available and affordable for increased usage by smaller companies that lack their own on site recycle processing departments. Thinking only about business interests is no longer enough. Caring about the welfare of the UK is an improvement, but caring about the future of other cultures and this planet, if not as financially profitable, will certainly be reason enough for a better night’s sleep and a clear moral conscience. After all, “To whom much is given, much is required”.
This post was written by UK blogger Thomas O’Rourke – an online writer who regularly writes about environmental issues such as WEEE recycling.