EAC re-launches inquiry into e-waste and the circular economy

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has re-launched its inquiry into waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and the circular economy.

A pile of e-waste

The new Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy inquiry comes after the committee’s previous electronic waste (e-waste) inquiry, which commenced in June 2019, was suspended due to the dissolution of Parliament ahead of December’s general election.

E-waste is growing faster than any other waste stream in the world, with around 50 million metric tonnes generated globally in 2018, most of which ends up in landfill or incineration.

Although exporting e-waste to developing countries is banned, this practice continues to take place – 1.3 million tonnes of undocumented e-waste is estimated to be exported from the EU every year to countries in Africa and Asia.

In the UK, e-waste is managed under the EU’s WEEE Directive and the UK WEEE Regulations 2013, which require producers to take financial responsibility for the end-of-life of their products. While retailers have been able to pay a fee to cover their recycling obligations under the Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS), the government announced in January that the fifth phase of the DTS will require larger retailers to provide in-store take-back facilities from January 2021 rather than covering the recycling costs.

Building on evidence from the previous inquiry – which had received 51 submissions of written evidence and planned a programme of oral evidence hearings – the EAC is welcoming further submissions on the environmental impacts of WEEE management, covering topics such as how the UK Government can support the transition towards a circular economy for electronic goods, how secondary markets for electronic goods can be improved and how the government can prevent the illegal export of e-waste to developing countries.

The inquiry will also examine whether the UK’s WEEE collection targets are achievable, after the Environment Agency last week announced that the UK has fallen short of its WEEE targets for the third consecutive year.

Philip Dunne MP, who was elected to replace Mary Creagh as the new EAC Chair in January, commented: “From being woken by electronic alarm clocks and putting the kettle on, to working on laptops and messaging on our mobile phones, we are constantly using electric devices. The desire to upgrade our devices continuously, coupled with the poor design of some products, is creating a growing mountain of electronic waste. Many gadgets are wrongly discarded in household bins destined for the dump or incineration rather than recycling.

“If the UK is to maintain its position as a world-leader in protecting the environment, we have to manage our e-waste better and make the transition to a more efficient circular economy. This new inquiry will consider what consumers and industry can do to minimise e-waste and increase how much of it we resell or recycle.”

Submissions can be made through the Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy inquiry page on the EAC website. 

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