Updated WEEE Directive Sets Ambitious Recycling Targets
The EU wants to collect around ten million tons of European e-waste by 2020
On Monday, the European Commission updated the WEEE Directive – legislation which sets an ambitious target of salvaging at least 85 percent of technology-related rubbish generated in the European Union by 2020.
Under the new rules, countries are required to take back some of their Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) free of charge. Currently only one third of electrical and electronic waste in the EU is collected within the documented system.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
The existing WEEE Directive came into force in February 2003, but wasn’t actually compulsory in the UK until mid 2007. EC authorities went as far as to issue a written warning to the UK government for delaying implementing the legislation.
The Directive was developed to try and tackle the increasing amounts of technology-related junk that was entering the waste stream and often ending up in landfill. It forced producers – such as IT manufacturers and importers – to take financial responsibility for the recycling and disposal of a proportion of tech waste dependent on their size and contribution.
E-waste offers substantial opportunities in returning secondary raw materials like gold, silver, copper and rare metals contained in used TVs, laptops and mobile phones back to the market.
Changes to the legislation, including a higher collection target, have emerged from a review which started in 2008, but have been repeatedly delayed.
The Directive which entered into force on Monday introduces a collection target of 45 percent of electronic equipment sold, and will apply from 2016. From 2018, the rules will be extended to all categories of electronic waste, and from 2019, countries will have to recycle either 65 percent of equipment sold, or 85 percent of e-waste generated.
EU member states will have to amend their existing legislation on WEEE and align it with the new Directive and the new targets by 14 February 2014. From this date, consumers will be able to return small electrical items to retail shops, to be recycled free of charge.
WEEE shall not be moved!
The new Directive also arms EU countries with the tools to fight the practice of shipping illegal waste overseas, where it is reprocessed in toxic conditions, sometimes buy child labourers. It will require exporters to test whether equipment works or not, and provide more documents on the nature of shipments.
“In these times of economic turmoil and rising prices for raw materials, resource efficiency is where environmental benefits and innovative growth opportunities come together. We now need to open new collection channels for electronic waste and improve the effectiveness of existing ones. I encourage the Member States to meet these new targets before the formal deadline,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik.
In January, British IT charity Computer Aid has expressed its ‘extreme disappointment’ at the lack of focus on the reuse of old, but still working IT equipment in the revised WEEE legislation.
The same month, HP published a report claiming that recent increases in commodity prices have sent the value of e-waste soaring to the extent that overall, there is now a positive net value in retired electrical and electronic equipment. In other words, rather than paying for recycling, businesses should be paid for their electronic waste.
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