Illegal trash exports from Sweden put Africa at risk

The illegal export of Swedes' discarded washers, televisions, and other waste has police scrambling to prevent what is becoming a growing environmental problem for west African countries.

So far this year, around 20 shipments have been stopped and a Swedish court recently convicted several people for attempting to transport 200 old refrigerators out of the country.

In the last three years, authorities have halted around 60 different shipments from Sweden carrying nearly 900 tonnes of waste.

Most of the shipments consist of large 12-metre long containers filled with old car parts, discarded computers, refrigerators, printers, televisions, and other electronic waste.

The shipments are generally destined for countries in western Africa.

“There are all kinds of ways to earn money doing this,” Henrik Forssblad, an environmental crimes specialist with the National Swedish Police Board (Rikspolisstyrelsen).

In destination countries, parts from an old refrigerator can be retooled, resulting in a working product which can then be resold and automobile scrap can be resold as spare parts.

The simple methods used in the retooling process can often result in the release of dangerous chemicals like lead and dioxins which can harm both people and the environment.

Unscrupulous companies in Sweden often end up profiting from the illegal export of discarded appliances and other waste.

“It costs companies money to properly dispose of a refrigerator. That’s something you avoid if you export it illegally and earn some money in the destination country,” said Forssblad.

“If you have a lot of fridges, you fill a container and that can save you a bundle.”

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KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

Sweden's government has announced that it will allow a major wolf cull this year, with hunters licensed to kill as many as half of the estimated 400 animals in the country. What is going on?

KEY POINTS: Why is Sweden planning to cull half its wolf population?

How many wolves are there in Sweden? 

Wolves were extinct in Sweden by the mid-1880s, but a few wolves came over the Finnish border in the 1980s, reestablishing a population.  

There are currently 480 wolves living in an estimated 40 packs between Sweden and Norway, with the vast majority — about 400 — in central Sweden. 

How many wolves should there be? 

The Swedish parliament voted in 2013, however, for the population to be kept at between 170 to 270 individuals, with the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency then reporting to the EU that Sweden would aim to keep the population at about 270 individuals to meet the EU’s Habitats Directive. 

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency was commissioned by the government to update the analysis,  and make a new assessment of the reference value for the wolf’s population size. It then ruled in a report the population should be maintained at about 300 individuals in order to ensure a “favourable conservation status and to be viable in the long term”. 

What’s changed now? 

Sweden’s right-wing opposition last week voted that the target number should be reduced to 170 individuals, right at the bottom of the range agreed under EU laws. With the Moderate, Christian Democrat, Centre, and Sweden Democrats all voting in favour, the statement won a majority of MPs.

“Based on the premise that the Scandinavian wolf population should not consist of more than 230 individuals, Sweden should take responsibility for its part and thus be in the lower range of the reference value,” the Environment and Agriculture Committee wrote in a statement.

Why is it a political issue? 

Wolf culling is an almost totemic issue for many people who live in the Swedish countryside, with farmers often complaining about wolves killing livestock, and hunters wanting higher numbers of licenses to be issued to kill wolves. 

Opponents of high wolf culls complain of an irrational varghat, or “wolf hate” among country people, and point to the fact that farmers in countries such as Spain manage to coexist with a much higher wolf population. 

So what has the government done? 

Even though the ruling Social Democrats voted against the opposition’s proposal, Rural Affairs Minister Anna-Caren Sätherberg agreed that the wolf population needed to be culled more heavily than in recent years. As a result, the government has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to once again reassess how many wolves there should be in the country. 

“We see that the wolf population is growing every year and with this cull, we want to ensure that we can get down to the goal set by parliament,” Sätherberg told the public broadcaster SVT.

Sweden would still meet its EU obligations on protecting endangered species, she added, although she said she understood country people “who live where wolves are, who feel social anxiety, and those who have livestock and have been affected”.