Eleven people will appear in court tomorrow afternoon (Thursday), after being charged with shipping prohibited electrical waste abroad.
The hearing will take place at Havering Magistrates Court at 2pm.
The charges follow what the Environment Agency calls its largest investigation ever, into the illegal export of electrical waste to developing countries. Such exports are prohibited under the Transfrontier Shipment of Waste Regulations 2007 and European Waste Shipment Regulations 2006.
The law was “clear” that hazardous waste electricals “cannot be sent overseas for recovery or disposal”, the Environment Agency said in a statement.
“As well as containing precious metals such as gold, copper and aluminium, electrical waste can also harbour hazardous substances including mercury and lead that are harmful to people and the environment,” it said.
The investigation began in mid-2008. Officers from the Environment Agency’s National Crime Team uncovered what they called a “network of individuals, waste companies and export businesses” that were allegedly involved in the exports. There was evidence to suggest that illegally exported electrical waste from the UK, it said, was ending up on waste sites in Africa, causing harm to people and the environment.
The Environment Agency’s national environmental crime team manager, Andy Higham, described the investigation as “painstaking”.
Those involved in the exports appeared to be making “considerable sums of money”, he said. In addition to the damage caused in the developing countries, illegally exporting electrical waste “also avoids the costs of legitimate recycling”.
In June, the Environment Agency brought about its first successful prosecution for the illegal export of electrical waste. Plymouth City Council was fined £11,742 after being caught selling the waste to unauthorised recyclers.
A further four prosecutions are listed to appear in court over the next few weeks.