APRIL 2012

EU adopts e-scrap rules that are strict

The International Electronics Recycling Congress met to revise the WEEE Directive.

The International Electronics Recycling Congress in Salzburg was held against the backdrop of the revision of the EU’s Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), on which the European Parliament voted positively a few days later. Higher collection rates and prevention of illegal exports are among the main thrusts of the new policy document.

The philosophy behind the goal of creating a Recycling Society within Europe was addressed by one of the keynote speakers, Julio Garcia Burgues, director of the Waste Management Unit of the European Commission. “Today, Europe faces a dual challenge: first, stimulating the growth needed to provide jobs and well-being to citizens; secondly, ensuring that growth leads to a sustainable future. To tackle these challenges and turn them into opportunities, our economy will require a fundamental transformation within one generation,” he said.

Each year in the EU, some 2.7 billion tons of waste are thrown away. On average, only 40 percent of municipal waste is re-used or recycled; the rest goes to landfill or incineration. According to a study published in mid-January by the European Commission, full implementation of EU waste legislation would save Euro 72 billion a year (US $93.7 billion) and create over 400,000 jobs by the year 2020.

E-waste generation is still increasing – electrical and electronic waste is expected to increase by roughly 11 percent between 2008 and 2014. And this is one of the waste streams with the greatest value in terms of recycling: not only gold, silver and copper but also rare earths are contained in significant volumes within e-waste.

The current annual collection target is 4 kg per capita. This means that, with 500 million people living in the EU, every year around 2 million tons of e-waste have to be collected, properly treated and made available for material recovery. Although some member states are lagging behind, many others are already well above the WEEE collection target.

According to Burgues, prevention of illegal exports of e-waste is one of the key objectives of the new directive. “The burden of proof to show that exports of used equipment are not just waste will be shifted to the exporters themselves,” he noted. “This should make the enforcement work of customs officers much easier.”

The new version of the WEEE Directive demands that all EU member states must increase their collection of e-waste, regardless of whether they already meet the current flat-rate target of 4 kg per person per year. By 2016, most will have to collect 45 tons of e-waste for every 100 tons of e-goods put on the market three years previously. By 2019, this must rise to a rate of 65 percent, or alternatively they can collect a comparable figure of 85 percent of e-waste generated.