Campaigners say new WEEE export rules have ‘reuse loophole’

Campaigners have warned a loophole remains in new shipping rules where unscrupulous operators can opt out by saying waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is destined for repair.

Members of the Basel Convention – an international environmental agreement of which the UK is a member – met and agreed on 17 June to tighten up WEEE exports through an amendment put forward by Ghana and Switzerland.

The changes introduce a requirement for all trans-boundary movements of WEEE, whether hazardous or not, to be subject to prior informed consent of the importing state and any state of transit.

Basel described the amendments to annexes II, VIII and IX, as a “bold decision” that “not only protects vulnerable countries from unwanted imports, but also fosters the environmentally sound management of e-wastes with state-of-the-art technology and thus contributes to a circular economy”.

The changes are due to come into force at the start of 2025, and were welcomed by campaigners the Basel Action Network (BAN). Executive director Jim Puckett said: “E-waste exports, particularly to developing countries, typically result in environmental harm even when the material is deemed non-hazardous.

“Due to the deadly emissions created when e-waste is processed thermally or in primitive acid stripping operations, this new agreement will go a long way towards protecting the environment and human health worldwide.”

BAN highlighted a loophole around reuse. Puckett added: “While everyone realises that repair plays an important role, it cannot be used as free ticket to export all manner of wastes on an empty claim and thereby hide from the Basel rules of the road.

“This opens the barn door to all manner of exploitative waste trade business. BAN, along with developing countries, aims to close that final loophole to prevent abuse in the name of reuse.”

During the meeting 22 developing countries argued that more work needed to be done in this area, in determining when e-waste is a waste and when it is not with many countries arguing the definition should be based on functionality. This is where next year’s continued discussions are expected to kick off.

The new amendments do not include e-waste that has been pre-processed in the exporting country to a safe, non-hazardous concentrate of metals or plastics listed on the Basel non-hazardous list (Annex IX). BAN campaigned on this issue, and said this exemption would allow more electronics to be recycled into commodity-grade secondary resources rather than landfilled or incinerated.

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