Par Olanrewaju Eweniyi

Unregulated dumping of electronic waste has led to environmental degradation and human rights violations, especially in developing countries in Asia and Africa (read: mostly Nigeria) where exporting is easy, labour laws are lax, and communities are poor.

A new report has found that more than 66,000 tonnes of used electrical and electronic equipment (UEEE) were sent to Nigeria in 2015 and 2016, and about a quarter of them (16,900) were toxic illegal e-waste - basically, the electronics didn't work.

(Photo: In Pictures Ltd. / Corbis via Getty Images)

The study, led by the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre for Africa and United Nations University, was conducted over two years and the researchers checked more than 200 shipping containers and 2,100 vehicles heading to Nigeria. 

70% — 41,500 tonnes — of the UEEE reaching Lagos each year arrived inside vehicles destined for Nigeria’s second-hand auto market, an import route never before thoroughly assessed.  Another 18,300 tonnes arrived in shipping containers. More than 60% of the UEEE imported in containers were declared in official paperwork to be household goods or personal effects. UEEE imported in used vehicles were mostly undeclared.

Roughly 77% of the used electronics were sent from the European Union and 7% were sent from the US, and unsurprisingly, none of the inspected cases led to any consequences, for the exporters or for the importers. TV monitors made up about one-third of the waste, followed by photocopiers and refrigerators.

The importance of this cannot be understated. Many of the most common discarded electronics contain very toxic metals and other compounds like mercury, lead, cadmium, flame retardants, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)— that can harm people and the environment. Used electrical and electronic equipment containing hazardous substances—mercury and [hydrochlorofluorocarbons] — are among the products with the highest non-functionality rates and the highest import volumes.

Alarming because the busiest ports are in Lagos, which also happens to be one of the most populous cities in Nigeria, and this lightly means that we have been getting poisoned. Nigeria needs stricter importation rules, especially for European countries, which clearly have no issues using us as a dumping ground.

Read the full report here.