current affairs development environment social justice technology waste

waste computers still being dumped in Africa

We’ve reported on this before, but the issue of dumped e-waste is back in the news today. There was good news last year as the new Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive came into force in the UK, supposedly to prevent the exporting of old computers for processing in the developing world. But children in Ghana and Nigeria are still stripping down waste PCs for scrap, without any protection from the toxic materials that lurk behind the plastic shells of every piece of obsolete electronic gear.

The problem is a loophole in the law that allows old computers to be sent to poorer countries for re-use in schools and hospitals. Unfortunately, no one is responsible for checking whether the machines being dispatched are re-usable or not. Scrap merchants are able to send e-waste abroad by saying it’s for re-use, and nobody will be any the wiser. Every month Lagos takes delivery of half a million scrapped computers, and only one in four is in any working order. The other three are officially illegal – a pretty huge failure of the well-intentioned WEEE guidelines.

What can you do?

  • First of all, don’t replace your computer, mobile, or any electronic equipment as often. Upgrade rather than replace computers, and for non-upgradeable hardware, buy the best you can afford first time round and keep it as long as you can.
  • If you are replacing something, give it to Computer Aid or a similar charity. Find out a bit about them first if you can – not every charity is going to be bona fide in this area, considering this is the main way waste electronics end up in Africa.
  • Under the WEEE directive, manufacturers are responsible for dismantling and processing the machines they produced. If you’re disposing of something that’s broken or not fit for re-use, you can take it back to the place you bought it. Read your rights here at the Environent Agency website.
  • If you’re replacing a mobile, you can read more about them specifically here.


  1. 60 million computers are replaced by businesses every year. At least that is the current level. By 2015 this expected to be 250 million. Sustainable? I think not. The main “recycling” method for these computers is as you say, Africa. One of the highest toxins released during the burning is lead which particularly affects children. 200 Million children a year in fact suffer from lead poisoning.

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