Thousands of computers and other e-waste items in the UK are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped illegally to African countries, a joint investigation by Greenpeace, The Independent and Sky News has revealed.
This is despite regulations prohibiting the trade in e-waste.
In an undercover sting, Greenpeace and Sky took an unfixable TV, fitted it with a tracking device and brought it to Hampshire County Council for recycling. "Instead of being safely dismantled in the UK or Europe, like it should have been, the council's recycling company, BJ Electronics, passed it on as 'second-hand goods' and it was shipped off to Nigeria to be sold or scrapped and dumped," Greenpeace wrote in its blog.
"For the first time we were able to track the e-waste from door to door, exposing the loopholes in recycling programmes that allow illicit profits to be made by the developed world's traders by dumping their obsolete and hazardous electronics abroad instead of properly recycling them."
By law, under the European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, e-waste must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors because of the toxic content of many electrical devices. The three-year probe found, once dumped in Africa, the computers were stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.
Greenpeace said thousands of old electronic goods and components leave Europe bound for Africa and Asia every day, despite regulations. "Some will be repaired and reused, but many are beyond repair, meaning that they will eventually be dumped in places where no facilities exist for safe recycling."
Hampshire County Council has launched an inquiry into its waste sites, but insisted that it worked only with dealers who exported functioning equipment.
Computer Aid International has been gathering signatures on an online petition that protests illegal dumping of e-waste. The petition calls on the government to grant more powers and resources to the Environment Agency, in order for them to effectively police the UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.
The non-profit group said: "Cowboy traders are illegally exporting hazardous and toxic electrical waste (e-waste) out of the UK, fraudulently claiming consignments consist entirely of electrical equipment destined for productive re-use, and then dumping it in developing countries such as Ghana, Nigeria and China."