Europe Votes For Tougher WEEE Recycling Rules

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European countries should collect 85 percent of their e-waste by 2016, according to a new WEEE directive

The European Parliament has voted for tougher regulations on the disposal of electronic trash, requiring each country to collect 4kg of e-waste per citizen by 2012, and to process 85 percent of all it’s electronic waste by 2016.

The tougher Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive is intended to tackle the issue of toxic waste from electronic products, which is often exported illegally to the third world where it is processed in lethally unsafe ways. The new tighter version of the WEEE directive has been delayed; it was welcomed by charity Computer Aid International, which called for still tougher measures in future.

Long Time Coming

Changes to the Directive, including a higher collection target and a separate reuse target have emerged from a review which started in 2008, and has been repeatedly delayed, most recently last October. On Thursday 3 February, the European Parliament finally had a full plenary vote, passing the update by 580 votes to 37.  on the changes, and according to Computer Aid the proposals are a positive step, although there should be more ambitious targets in the future.

So what did the MEPs vote for?

Member states should collect 85 percent of the e-waste they produce from 2016, acording to the proposals. Member states should collect 4 kg of e-waste per inhabitant by 2012. In addition MEPs recommend a 50-75 percent recycling target, and suggested a separate re-use target, initially set at 5 percent.

This proposals will now go before the European Council for possible approval on 14 March 2011.

“Computer Aid International is pleased to see MEPs approve a higher and more ambitious collection target of 85 percent of e-waste arising,” said Haley Bowcock, environmental advocacy officer at Computer Aid. “With e-waste generation in the EU predicted to grow to 12 million tonnes per year by 2020 and 67 percent of this amount still completely unaccounted for – either landfilled, sent to sub standard treatment facilities or illegally exported – it is clear that much more must be done to address this problem.”

“We are happy to see that a separate reuse target is finally going to be included although, at 5 percent, we believe that this target is far too low,” said Bowcock.

Despite supporting greater recycling, the UJ government has in fact scrapped the WEEE Advisory Body which oversaw the introduction of the WEEE directive in the UK, and reports have found that the UK is failing to stem the toxic tide of e-waste flowing to the developing world

Environmental Harm

Reuse is the most environmentally friendly option for much electronic equipment,” she added. “For example, it takes 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg chemicals and 1,500 litres of water to produce one PC. Furthermore, each computer has a potential lifespan of ten years but UK consumers usually replace equipment after only 3-4 years. Consequently the lifespan of most unwanted IT could be doubled  instead of being discarded.”

“In order to better manage the rising volumes of e-waste, targets for re-use and the mechanisms to support these targets should be much more ambitious,” said Bowcock. “For instance, in our experience, there is potential for Europe to reuse 75 percent of ICT equipment and we hope that this tentative step in the right direction paves the way for more ambitious proposals and actual reuse in the near future.”

Computer Aid has long championed the revisions to the WEEE Directives and has published its own set of recommendation. The charity actively recycles old computer equipment, and last year launched a solar powered Internet café in Kenya to enable rural communities with no electricity to get online.

  1. These government targets will likely never be reached because of astronomical fees placed on the very people who are doing the job of reuse and recycling.

    There are hundreds possibly even thousands of smaller enterprises in the UK using reuse schemes as a means to retrain long-term unemployed people and give them a real chance in the job market. In many cases these enterprises earn little or nothing.

    A waste license would not be appropriate so an exemption is in place to relieve them of the cumbersome licensing procedures. Here comes the crunch: the WEEE reuse exemption costs £840. Honestly, how are these schemes expected to pay that? Answer: they simply don’t register. And that means their waste never gets counted in the targets.

    Individually, these schemes are insignificant, but taken as a whole, we are talking large amounts of WEEE that simply disappear into the system without being recorded. Every government sponsored statistic on this shows a major discrepency between EEE placed on the market and WEEE being returned. Now we know where a significant portion of it is.

    It’s my belief that computer equipment that is paid for from the public purse should always be sent for reuse in the community where the public that paid for them will get the benefit.

    Airedale Computer Recycling in West Yorkshire is a Social Enterprise and now takes computers from 3 local authorities and most of West Yorkshires Emergency Services, along with schools and businesses throughout the region for the purpose of retraining volunteers, school work placements and long term unemployed. They make low cost computers available to the community and give many free of charge to local good causes. Anything left over is dismantled, shredded and sent for reprocessing into raw materials.

    All the profit from this enterprise is then given to a registered charity that provides an alternative education to disadvantaged or excluded young people where they can earn OCN certification in practical trades such as Building & Construction or Motor Vehicle Maintenance.

    If you want to know more check out the website for or some of the other computer refurbishers in Yorkshire at the Regional Electronics Initiative

    1. When I posed questions on a well known forum not so long ago I was bombarded with responses (from very pieved engineers) which in turn posed further questioning, and all these question were relative to the T11, the £840 levy (stealth tax) posted by the Environment Agency for WEEE exemption to repairing for reuse

      “Just when I thought I have this great business plan to have the nice little refurbishment on the side in case of the repair work dried up not only to find that I need a waste carrier’s licence and a pointless T11

      There is a danger of valuable skills being lost by lack of practice and not being able to keep up to date with the new appliances. My understanding that as an engineer, we have a responsibility to ensure our knowledge and skills are up to date and the only way to do this is getting our hands dirty.”

      That was one response that I got from an engineer who wanted to do the ‘right thing’ by keeping waste electricals out of landfil and brush-up on his skills at the same time as preparring the appliance for reuse.

      In short, it seems that what the government are saying is: If you intend to rebuild it to sell it and make a profit from it, then we want some of that profit. We’ll have a little of it in tax, and then when you purchase the parts to repair it we’ll have a little bit more tax from you. Then if you are still insitstant on repairing the item, we’ll have a little more off you by charging you a levy of £840 to allow you to do it.. One way or another we will discourage you from repairing that machine because otherwise the local travellers who roam the streets collecting all this scrap and don’t pay any tax on the machines they scrap will have nothing to live on.
      Oh and just in case you are going to strip it for spares, those spare are worth money so we’ll administer the same levi on that activity too since want some of that money, but we dont just want the tax.. it’s not enough….

      However, If you are going to scrap the machine then we don’t want any of the money because we would be seen to be profiting from an environmentally unfriendly act and we can’t be seen to do that can we.

      It really does seem farcical… several government officials seem to be very confused and discouraged by the WEEE system too. The system that is set up to protect the environment seems to be the system that will allow it to be plundered of its resources to build ne machines that should not have had to be build since the one that has just been taken away to be scrapped by the local travellers only required a door switch costing less than £5.00. Instead, all the rest of its working parts are to travel the world in a huge carbon footprint, only to be melted down to make another machine that will take its place after another huge carbon footprint to get it to the UK string of chains (no names).

      Anyway, I have since set-up a website called Find My Recycler. The findmyrecycler website, now live in ‘Stage 1′ form, has the aim of connecting consumers to recyclers worldwide in an effort to reduce waste, reduce carbon emissions, and save money for consumers and companies alike… Do You Know A Recycler – Do You Think They Would Like To Join Us? Let us know who they are and we will contact them.

      by George Laugharne