Electronic waste

E-waste illegally shipped to Africa in used cars, study finds

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According to a United Nations (UN) study, thousands of tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) is being illegally shipped to Nigeria from Europe in used vehicles.

Approximately three-quarters of used electrical and electronic equipment (UEEE) shipped to Nigeria in 2015 and 2016 came from EU ports. At least 15,400 tonnes of the total 60,000 tonnes was found not to work, although the true figure is likely to be higher.

The study also found that 70 per cent of UEEE arrived in vehicles intended to be put on Nigeria’s second-hand car market, while the rest arrived in shipped containers. Used vehicles are heavily used to import goods, as they can be driven on and off ships and later sold. Most of the electronics imported in used vehicles was undeclared and 98 per cent originated from EU countries – mainly from the UK and Germany – with the rest coming from the US and China.

“The importation of UEEE in vehicles is economical for the shippers because it fills valuable space during shipments,” said Professor Percy Onianwa, director of the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre for Africa.

“However, because in particular the contents in [roll on, roll off] vehicles are not yet on the radar for such tests, this practice serves to avoid inspections and functionality tests on UEEE by the regulatory agency, resulting in many tonnes of e-waste arriving illegally into Nigeria.”

“UEEE containing hazardous substances e.g.: mercury and [hydrochlorofluorocarbons] are among the products with the highest non-functionality rates and the highest import volumes.”

The largest category of used electronics was used TV monitors (mostly non-functional), followed by photocopiers, fridges, computers and air conditioners. Much of the UEEE arriving in Nigeria is shipped with other items to sell, such as bicycles, furniture and sports equipment.

While some of these used devices can be repaired and reused in Nigeria, this enormous shipment of e-waste violates the Basel Convention: an international treaty aimed at reducing the quantity of hazardous waste being shipped from more developed to less developed nations. According to the convention, only functional electronics can be shipped.

The study also found that none of the exporters or importers involved with these illegal shipments suffered any consequences of their actions.

“The enforcement of regulations in the countries of export, mainly in the EU and Nigeria, need to be strengthened, and closer cooperation amongst local regulatory and enforcement agencies is highly advisable”, the report recommended.

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