Authorities have failed to prosecute smugglers secretly shipping ‘e-waste’ out of Australia without permits.

The Department of the Environment confirmed 21 containers of e-waste – old electronics such as televisions, computers, printers and mobile phones – had been intercepted without hazardous waste permits since 2010. However, no prosecutions have been launched.

Most containers were destined for ports in west Africa and Asia, with the three shipments stopped so far this year heading to Nigeria, Ghana and China.

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has also admitted it does not keep records of cases referred to the Environment Department for investigation.

Former federal government adviser Mariann Lloyd-Smith, from the National Toxics Network, said the seizures were the “tip of the tip of the iceberg”.

In 2008 almost 17 million electronic devices were discarded by Australians, a number that is expected to swell to 44 million by 2028. It is estimated only about 4 per cent of Australia’s hazardous waste is recycled.

West Africa and Asia have already been singled out as hot spots for e-waste, which contains toxic chemicals including lead, mercury and cadmium that leach into the soil and contaminate the air.

There is also evidence the trade fuels child labour, with locals picking through e-waste dumps in search of valuable minerals found inside the electronics.

A recent study of 300 children near an e-waste dump in Kenya found about half had respiratory problems and one-third had blood abnormalities indicating heavy metal poisoning.

(Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

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