Dutch export their refuse to Africa
Dutch councils are indirectly profiting from the dumping of hazardous substances in Africa. Electronic equipment that is imported as second-hand goods is often dumped straight away. A change in regulations in the Netherlands has made the trade in superfluous electronic goods possible. By Thijs Westerbeek van Eerten*
Dutch councils are indirectly profiting from the dumping of hazardous substances in Africa. Electronic equipment that is imported as second-hand goods is often dumped straight away. A change in regulations in the Netherlands has made the trade in superfluous electronic goods possible.
Greenpeace says 80 percent of all electronic waste in Ghana comes from western Europe, and a proportion of it comes from the Netherlands. Greenpeace has found high concentrations of hazardous substances in the soil under Ghanaian scrap markets. Dutch electronic waste which in fact is not allowed to be exported finds its way to Ghana as second hand goods. An export trade which is not illegal. However, because a large proportion of the electronic goods do not work, it ends up in the scrap market.
Gijs van Bezooijen, assistant manager of the Dutch Association of Refuse and Cleaning Management, says that most of the disregarded electronic equipment in the Netherlands is dealt with properly.
The material is collected by councils and dismantled by special companies and recycled, or sold in second-hand shops, or taken apart by specially selected metal dealers. The removal charge which importers and manufacturers have been allowed to levy since August 2005 is for this very purpose.
A Dutch treat? Refuse on a Ghana rubbish tip
As of 2011 the removal charge will be included in the price of products. Before disregarded electronic appliances go to the Association of Metal and Electronic Products, they are collected at council refuse collection points. Councils are not obliged to pass on all waste appliances to the association, but are also allowed to
supply it to third parties.
Hole in the net
It was a watertight system, but since a couple of years market forces have been allowed in and municipalities are free to sell old appliances to commercial companies. This can be a profitable business, because old electronic goods are so valuable companies are prepared to pay for them. Instead of giving old electronic goods away, there is money to be made. Gijs van Bezooijen says the hole in the net has come about since councils have been able to sell the material to traders without knowing where it's going. And then it is sold on as second-hand goods to African countries, but on arrival it doesn't work. And then it ends up on the scrap heap with all the consequences.'
National recycling system
The national collection and recycling of electronic equipment in the Netherlands has been taken care of by the Dutch Association of Metal and Electronic Products since August 2005. This is an association of manufacturers and importers.
The association has set up a national collection system financed by the removal charge which consumers pay every time they buy a new electronic appliance.
The association is a non-profit organisation which is 'brand free'. This means that even if a brand disappears from the market the old appliances are still recycled using the removal charge.
Hundreds of tonnes
The consequences are far reaching. Not only does modern electronic equipment contain all kinds of hazardous substances, heavy metals, flame retardants etc., but the influx of waste is huge. From the Netherlands alone, we are talking about hundreds of tonnes a year.
The fact that a certain proportion of old electronic goods ends up in the wrong place is not due to the removal charge. The money goes into a fund supervised by the environment ministry, which pays for the whole recycling and re-use programme. Mr Van Bezooijen says consumers should be able to be confident that their old appliances are disposed of properly; "After all they pay for it!"
For the sake of the consumer, the commercial component of the whole recycling system should be strictly regulated. Mr Van Bezooijen says, "I think the government has the moral obligation to draw up regulations so that councils only do business with companies that dispose of electronic goods properly, preferably in the Netherlands, or put them on the second-hand market."
Greenpeace has found a large percentage of Philips goods on the scrap heap and points the finger at the Dutch electronic company. Campaign leader Kim Schoppink is demanding that Philips makes sure "All appliances are recycled here in the Netherlands". However, Mr van Bezooijen says it's not Philips who is responsible, "It is the Dutch Association of Metal and Electronic products, which monitors the recycling of electronic goods. The association also manages the fund which the removal charge is paid into. If councils brought all their old appliances to association, there would not be a problem."
Mr van Bezooijen does think it is a good idea to make it obligatory to dispose of electronic goods within the Netherlands, but it is not that easy, "I know it is difficult because there are all kinds of trade rules which make it difficult to limit these kind of exports, and there is free trading of goods and services in Europe, so we have to find a legal technicality to keep this material in the Netherlands. But personally I would have absolutely no problem with it being done this way."
This firmly places the ball in the government's court which should regulate this trade with commercial parties more strictly to prevent situations like the one in Ghana.
*RNW translation (nc)
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]