Précis – Recent enforcement action taken against companies and individuals illegally transporting waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) emphasises that now is a good time to check compliance.

What?

WEEE is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the developed world. Consumer taste and the ever increasing array of electronic products available has resulted in a massive increase in the amount of WEEE which needs to be disposed or recycled.

The problem is complicated by the fact that some items of WEEE are classed as hazardous waste.

So what?

In the EU there has long been legislation to ensure that waste treatment and recycling is carried out in appropriately licensed sites. To prevent the developed world dumping its waste products on less developed counties, there has also been legislation (currently the Waste Shipments Regulation 2006) which makes it illegal to export hazardous WEEE from the EU to developing countries for disposal.

Waste companies, local authorities and businesses, all have a legal responsibility to ensure that their waste is properly disposed of and not illegally exported.

However, exporting working items of electronic equipment for reuse is permitted. Many unscrupulous businesses have sought to take advantage of this by exporting broken, non functioning equipment whilst seeking to argue these items are being exported for reuse.

On 25 February 2013, INTERPOL reported on its first operation targeting the illegal trade in WEEE. The operation took place during November and December 2012 and resulted in the seizure of more than 240 tonnes of WEEE and the launch of criminal investigations against 40 companies. The operation saw the participation of police, customs, port authorities, and environment and maritime enforcement agencies in seven European and African countries. The operation included checks at major ports in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Almost one-third of the checks resulted in the discovery of illegally exported WEEE.

David Higgins, Manager of the INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme reported that the operation “is a new example of INTERPOL’s continued efforts to fight all types of transnational pollution crime.”

This action comes on the back of the UK Environment Agency’s “biggest” waste expert case where eight men and three companies received large fines for exporting WEEE to Nigeria, Ghana and Pakistan. Interestingly the case made clear that it was no defence that others in the supply chain had carried out tests to ensure the items met the relevant rules. The judge made clear that items must be in working order and that a PAT test must be available. It goes without saying a good paper trail is essential.

The recent action in both the UK and Europe does raise this issue higher up the agenda. There may be many in the electrical goods sector who routinely send “returns” aboard for reuse. Now would be a good time to review your procedures and to check you are in full compliance.