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: