• Europe’s growing electrical waste

                June 30, 2010
                by andrea maresi

                Migrant workers scavenge used electronic equipment, which often contains highly toxic material. Photograph: Jim Puckett/AP - Source: The Guardian

                Mobile phones, computers, TVs – we like them but where do they go when we are finished with them? In the worst case they can be dismantled by hand for scrap by children in developing countries. This can expose them to potentially fatal chemicals. New legislation, scheduled to be voted this Thursday (3 Feb 2011), aims to toughen existing rules on collection and treatment so that within six years 85% of all waste will be recovered and treated.

                The proposals for this legislation, drafted by Karl-Heinz Florenz (EPP, Germany), were backed by the Environment Committee on 22 June 2010. Political groups are expected to agree on the bulk of the proposals in the report.
                Karl-Heinz Florenz told us, “we lose a lot of raw material because a lot of electronic waste is illegally shipped out of Europe. For example, 1 million mobiles contain: 250 kg silver, 24 kg gold, 9 kg palladium, and 9 tonnes of copper”.
                Over 8 million tonnes of e-waste
                This type of waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU (over 8 million tonnes and growing) and poses a series of challenges such as health problems if the waste is not properly treated and a loss of raw materials if there is no recycling.
                According to national reports, only 33% of the waste is currently collected and properly treated.
                Setting ambitious and fair targets
                The current collection target is 4 kg per year per person, but it doesn’t reflect the different circumstances of each country. Some states already exceeded this amount, others fell short of it.
                The EP Environment Committee has recommended that Member States should collect 85% of WEEE by 2016 and recycle 50-75% (depending on the category).
                Mr. Florenz said, “we suggested collecting 85% of the waste that arises in the Member State. It is a challenging but realistic and important target.”
                In the meanwhile, an interim target (4 kg or the amount collected in 2010, whichever is greater) will be set, to facilitate gradual improvement towards the final target.
                “Another change will be the establishment of European-wide standards for collection, treatment and recycling of waste. The current situation shows a quite different quality of these operations in Europe,” said Mr Florenz.
                Illegal shipment
                Karl-Heinz Florenz was clear about the present situation: “At the moment a very big amount of waste is illegally shipped out of Europe. Every Member State, specifically the customs officers have to prove that the exported product is not functioning and therefore not allowed to be shipped”.
                He added: “we will shift the burden of proof: now it is on the exporter. Furthermore, we established clear criteria to distinguish between waste and used but functioning products. This will help the custom services to control the exporters”.
                Consumer responsibility
                Consumers can already turn their electronic waste in to dedicated facilities, but things will be easier now: “consumers will now be able to deposit very small appliances like mobile phones, shavers etc at any retail shop, without the requirement to buy a new product. These small products often end up in the waste bin, because consumers are not willing to go to a collection point just for an MP3 Player,” Mr Florenz said.

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