Updated: EU e-waste recycling targets enforced

16th August 2012

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The UK will have to recover at least 85% of waste electronics by 2019, under EU legislation revised to boost resource efficiency

The recast Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (2012/19/EU) imposes a series of increasingly tough collection targets on EU member states to ensure that the rare earth elements and metals such as copper, silver and gold, used in mobile phones and computers are being recycled.

Under the new WEEE Directive EU countries have less than four years to up WEEE recovery rates to the equivalent of 45% of the total electrical and electronic equipment sold within their borders. Currently only one-third of WEEE in the EU is separately collected.

The recovery target rises to 65% of electrical equipment sold or 85% of all WEEE by 2019, equating to 10 million tonnes of waste recovered by 2020, according to the European Commission’s projections.

“In these times of economic turmoil and rising prices for raw materials, resource efficiency is where environmental benefits and innovative growth opportunities come together,” said EU environment commissioner Janez Potočnik.

“We now need to open new collection channels for electronic waste and improve the effectiveness of existing ones.”

The new Directive also broadens the scope of the legislation from 2018 to all electrical and electronic equipment and imposes requirements on exporters to test equipment being shipped and provide greater documentation in a bid to tackle WEEE being illegally transported outside of the EU.

Manufacturing trade association, EEF, said that government must ensure that producers have ready access to WEEE moving forward. “In the past, there have been concerns that producers were paying above and beyond the cost of recovery of the WEEE and in part, we believe, that was to do with the design of the UK WEEE scheme,” commented Fergus McReynolds, EEF senior climate and environment policy adviser.

“The recast Directive provides us with a great opportunity understand whether the UK system is the correct system and whether we can put safeguards in that ensure that producers are paying a fair price for the treatment of WEEE.”

Another important change in the new EU rules for firms to be aware of, according to McReynolds, is the additional obligations imposed on producers of “duel use” products – goods sold to businesses but have the potential to be a consumer product.

The e-waste legislation came into force just days after a report commissioned by the business department’s WEEE advisory body, recommended that the UK government needed to provide incentives for firms to design electronic products that were easier to repair, upgrade, reuse or recycle, but also move towards a situation where producers are paying costs relating to their own WEEE.

The working group advised the government to consult on three potential options for a producer responsibility regime including:

  • a mechanism that weights the amount of WEEE required to be collected by producers in line with the treatment costs of products being put on the market – encouraging more efficient designs
  • a return share approach where producer’s pay for a proportion of WEEE based on the amount of their own brand products arising in the waste stream
  • a front end payment scheme through which producers would contribute to the costs of collecting, treating, and recycling the products being put on the market. As the amount and composition of WEEE arising will not be the same as that sold a balancing mechanism is introduced.

By a slim majority, the working group concludes the weighting mechanism was the preferred option for the UK.


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