e-Waste And The Stringent New WEEE Directive – What Is It And How Does It Work?


Growing e-waste concerns

The safe disposal of ever increasing e-waste is a real concern today. E-waste is one of the fastest growing sources of waste in the EU. Besides the clear environmental externalities implicated in landfill disposal of e-waste, significant losses in reusable materials are also incurred. As technology is churned out with increasing speed, models become obsolete more quickly thus creating logistical problems for producers.

Enter the WEEE directive?

In response to this dilemma, the European Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive was negotiated. WEEE came into effect in 2003 with the aim to reduce the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfills by increasing the quantity that is reused, recycled or disposed of appropriately.

The WEEE directive also aims to combat the serious issue of illegal shipping of e-waste to non-EU states. In an attempt to save money, e-waste is known to be shipped abroad thus by-passing waste regulations.

Business implications of the WEEE directive

The WEEE directive impacts producers by requiring them to adopt full responsibility for the safe end-of-life disposal of their goods. In this case producers refers to manufacturers, importers, exporters and re-sellers of electrical equipment. However, there are flow-on implications for businesses. For example:

  • Producers are required to finance the collection of WEEE from businesses. They must ensure that safe disposal or collection of e-waste is easily accessible for businesses
  • Accordingly, businesses are required to supply evidence that they have met their targets in disposing safely of WEEE
  • Retailers must inform consumers of their responsibilities in safely disposing of their purchases. There have been instances where companies claiming green credentials have not been seen to actively encourage end-of life disposal of their products. Hence, WEEE sets out specific points that must be covered in its instruction manual

Tough new amendments to the WEEE directive

In response to critiques over the effectiveness of WEEE, a new more stringent directive was approved in July 2012. Without departing far from the intent of the original directive, it focuses on increasing the proportion of e-waste that is reused or recycled in relation to that which is simply safely disposed of. It also raises the level of collection targets significantly, including:

  • A collection target of 45% of electrical and electronic equipment released into the market must be achieved by 2016
  • This increases to 65% or 85% by 2019, depending on which target member states sign up

The new directive also takes a tougher stance on illegal exportation of waste and gives EU member states more effective tools to combat this practice. EU member states have been given until February 2014 to incorporate the new directive into e-waste legislation.

What does the future hold?

As the electronics industry continually grows, at a rate of 9% in 2012, so too does the consequent e-waste. Alongside the speed with which products are made redundant by further technological developments, there has been a growth in the market for the recycling and reuse of e-waste. The WEEE directive has moderately encouraged a shift towards responsible disposal of e-waste. However, currently only a third of e-waste is disposed of appropriately, with illegal dumping abroad still prevalent.

The EU hopes that this tough new directive will rectify this discrepancy. It hopes it will result in a five-fold increase in recovered electrical equipment and make it easier for companies to extract reusable materials.

About the Author Acacia Smith

Acacia Smith is a New Zealander now based in London. She holds a bachelor degree and postgraduate diploma from Victoria University of Wellington. She has worked for the Council for International Development (CID) and more recently in Bolivia for CIWY, a network of private parks for the rehabilitation and conservation of Amazonian fauna. Acacia is passionate about sustainability and the role businesses can play in promoting a better, more sustainable future.

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