Does Europe recycle enough its electronic waste (WEEE) ?!

Only 35% of 9.5 million tons of electrical and electronic equipment waste (WEEE) were recycled in Europe in 2012. More than 6 million tonnes of WEEE escaped the processing circuits implemented by States.

Source: Royalty-free Image on flickr.com

Source: Royalty-free Image on flickr.com

“Electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) represents the waste stream with the globally highest growth. The weight of WEEE generated in Europe and mismanaged, amounts to a wall 10 meters high connecting Oslo to Italy boot “, according to the analysis of Pascal Leroy – general secretary of the WEEE Forum.The forum participated with six other actors, to a wide market survey of European WEEE (28 Member States, Norway and Switzerland), coordinated by Interpol and carried out under the WEEE Countering illegal trade project (CWIT).

An economic loss estimated at between € 800 million and € 1.7 billion

The survey reveals that in 2012, among the 9.45 million tonnes (Mt) of WEEE produced in Europe, only 35% were featured in the official reports of collection and recycling. The remaining 65% (6.15 million tonnes) were exported (1.5 Mt), recycled non-compliant conditions in Europe (3.15 Mt), thrown among other waste (750,000 t) … Thus, contrary to popular belief, the majority of WEEE “poorly managed” or “illegally traded” remain on European territory (4.7 Mt). Theft of valuable components in WEEE, such as printed circuit boards and precious metals, is also a scourge penalizing official channels of waste processing. In total, the report assesses the loss of materials and resources between 800 million and 1.7 billion euros.

Of the 1.5 million tonnes of WEEE exported, very few are officially reported. An estimated 70% of WEEE is used like second hand & 30% are actually waste.

Pour rappel, la directive européenne de 2012 fixe, pour 2016, un objectif de collecte de 45% du poids moyen des EEE mis sur le marché les trois dernières années et de 65% en 2019. Si certains pays atteignent ou dépassent déjà ces objectifs (Suède, Norvège, Suisse…), d’autres (comme la France, l’Espagne ou encore l’Italie et la Grèce) sont à la traîne.

As a reminder, the European directive of 2012 sets for 2016 a 45% collection target average weight of EEE placed on the market the last three years and 65% in 2019. Some countries already meet or exceed these objectives (like Sweden, Norway, Switzerland …), others (such as France, Spain or Italy and Greece) are lagging behind.

A necessary harmonization and cooperation between States

These shortcomings in the treatment of WEEE in Europe are particularly related to definitional differences between states, including the differences in definitions between what is considered as waste and what is regarded as electrical equipment and reusable electronics.

Penalties are also varying greatly from one country to another and are not sufficiently dissuasive.

The authors of the survey call for stronger intelligence and cooperation between countries. Indeed, theft and trafficking of WEEE are the result of cross-border groups (in the EU and beyond), and may involve organized crime.

The States must also work towards a better knowledge of the market, through better monitoring of flows (including reused EEA) and of the players involved throughout the value chain. Recycling and reuse standards and incentives must be put in place to promote official treatment systems. Finally, public information must be improved to increase the rate of collection and recycling of WEEE &  the territory should be better covered by secure collection points to prevent thefts. 

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