Only One Third of Europe’s Electronic Waste is Managed Correctly, Study Finds


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  • 2015•08•31     Bonn

    The EU-funded project Countering Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Illicit Trade (CWIT), under the scientific coordination of UNU-IAS, has found that only 35% (3.3 million of 9.5 million tonnes) of the EU’s used equipment and waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE) discarded in 2012 wound up in official collections and recycling systems.

    According to a new report produced by the CWIT project ― a two-year investigation into the functioning of Europe’s e-waste market conducted jointly by the UNU-IAS Operating Unit in Bonn (SCYCLE), WEEE Forum, INTERPOL and several other partners ― the remaining 6.2 million tonnes were either exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions, exploited for valuable materials or simply thrown out. The volume of e-waste that is mismanaged within the EU exceeds 10 times the amount that is shipped undocumented to foreign shores (400,000 tonnes).

    “Electronic and electrical equipment represents the fastest-growing flow of the world’s waste streams. Valuable metals and components, including critical raw materials, need to be safely captured and recycled to the fullest possible extent,” said Pascal Leroy (Secretary-General, WEEE Forum). Given that e-waste also contains such toxic materials as lead in glass, batteries, mercury, cadmium, chromium and ozone-depleting substances (CFCs), a properly functioning management of waste electronics is a matter of human health and safety.

    The report notes that 30% of EU members have not implemented the stringent regulations required by the latest version of the WEEE directive. And even in the few EU member states with robust, effective reporting systems, monitoring of de-pollution efforts and up-to-standard treatment conditions are not always securely in place.

    According to Jaco Huisman (Scientific Coordinator of the CWIT project, UNU-IAS), developing and implementing policies is difficult without solid statistics and market understanding. “The unique contribution of this project is that it simultaneously provides facts and market analysis, as well as detailed scrutiny of the legal framework and the law enforcement chain in Europe”, he says. The report recommends ways to better monitor e-waste trade, enforce laws, and cooperate in order to make stringent EU regulations function. Among the recommendations are:

    • A proposal for two new systems to foster inter-agency and international cooperation, as well as the exchange, storage and analysis of information: Operational Intelligence Management System, and National Environmental Security Task Force (NEST).
    • Dedicated training of judges and prosecutors. Many of the CWIT partners will continue their work in an EU funded project, expanding the gathered experience for training law enforcement authorities and prosecutors covering all waste types.
    • An EU-wide ban on cash transactions in the scrap metal trade.
    • Mandatory treatment of WEEE according to approved standards, with a certification system in place and mandatory reporting of treatment and de-pollution results to the European Commission, in particular including unequivocal reporting on de-pollution (for example, the capture of hazardous substances like mercury in flat screens and CFC’s from fridges).
    • Full transposition and timely implementation of the Recast WEEE Directive and harmonized guidelines for distinguishing waste from non-waste.
    • More targeted, more upstream investigations, inspection systems and national monitoring.
    • Improving the involvement and awareness of users in the early stages of the e-waste chain.
  • CWIT - Final Summary

    (14.6 MB PDF)