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E-Waste & the Law

06 Jun

BBC World put out a documentary yesterday about e-waste from the UK. This is discarded electronic equipment, a large part of which is televisions. The lasting image from the programme is of a young Ghanaian teenager  burning a whole bunch of wiring, the aim being to extract the raw copper, which earns him about $1 a day. His hands were black, pitted and scarred and no doubt his lungs were full of toxic fumes, as were those of the other kids scavenging the dump.

The destruction and/or recycling of electronic waste is dangerous, principally because of the toxic nature of many of the materials, including lead. This is why it is ILLEGAL to export it; it HAS to go to a specialist recycling centre in the UK. We saw one; the owner said a massive investment had been made in state-of-the-art processing facilities, but the plant was running at only around 40% capacity. Why? Because even today it is believed that over HALF of the e-waste produced in Britain is being illegally exported. It ends up in dumps in Nigeria, Ghana and other poor countries.

OK so far ….. NOW, the punishment for breaking this law about exporting e-waste is A) unlimited fines and B) up to two years’ imprisonment. However, according to the programme, NOBODY HAS EVER BEEN JAILED for breaking this law and the HIGHEST FINE EVER IMPOSED was £12,500.

Those who complain about too many people being sent to jail should perhaps consider what the hell is going on here. Criminals are CALLOUSLY exporting toxic and dangerous material to poor countries KNOWING that people (children are people, too ……..) will be POISONED and in many cases have their health ruined FOR EVER.

The chances of the criminals getting caught are – it seems – small, and even if they ARE caught, the punishments cannot in ANY way be considered a deterrent. This situation is a MASSIVE betrayal of poor people – principally in Africa.

Toxic fumes waft across the dump ......

Many people – including me – will think the law is a sick joke. Wanting REALISTIC punishments which will act as a deterrent is not the mark of a “hang-em-high” Tory but the mark of a rational person who is disgusted by the – in this case British – exploitation and poisoning of the poor of another country. What is the POINT of (feeling good about) giving aid with the LEFT hand while the RIGHT hand is tolerating the poisoning of the poor?

So Mr Ken Clarke? Where do YOU stand on this?

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