Institute for Environmental Security
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Experts Debate on Illegal E-Waste Trade Around the Globe
IES takes part in debate on e-waste exports and dumping
7 June 2010
On 25-27 May, IES Fellow Chad Briggs, participated in a meeting hosted by INTERPOL, the US EPA and Swedish government in Alexandria, Virginia on the topic of e-waste exports and dumping. Over 100 experts from police, environment, customs and trade agencies, including several NGOs, met at the largest-yet gathering to address the environmental and health problems of dumped electronic waste. E-waste is often generated when electronic goods are discarded rather than recycled, often ending in unregulated dumps in West Africa or Asia. Nearly 50 million tons of personal computers alone are disposed of each year, the E-Waste Crime Group estimates, a number which will grow significantly in the future.
E-waste contains numerous heavy metals, with a standard CRT-monitor containing up to several kilograms of lead. The assembled group was interested in how to prevent exports of such waste from North America and Europe, and force proper recycling of the materials. US EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson flew back to Washington from the Gulf Coast oil spill to address the meeting, calling on countries to enforce stricter toxic waste regulations, many of which are covered under the Basel Convention (which the US has not ratified).
IES was represented by Fellow Chad Briggs, who spoke on the first day about joint monitoring programmes of IES, University College London, and The Hague Environmental Law Facility. Dr. Briggs explained the possible use of satellite monitoring and GPS tracking to assist police agencies in identifying potential waste sites, and tracking movement of e-waste. With most shipping containers passing without inspection, the use of better data to identify and track potential e-waste shipments frees resources and allows targeted inspections of exports. Briggs also emphasized the importance of integrating non-security experts in information networks, drawing upon his previous experience as a senior advisor for the US Department of Energy. "We can't just rely upon established methods of information gathering," Briggs explained, "as environmental issues are too complex to understand without support from the wider community."
IES will soon release a final report and the related proposal for the Hague Environmental Law Facility for the compliance and enforcement of international environmental law. At various previous conferences the application of earth observation technologies for better enforcement was stated and IES conducted a workshop with attendance from the legal and technical community on satellite monitoring for the enforcement of environmental law in The Hague in April 2010. The next step is a case study which practically shows the importance on using the tools of GPS and satellite imagery in investigations and legal proceedings.