Europe’s e-waste system ‘hinders’ circular economy

The European Recycling Platform (ERP) has called for improved compliance and more consistent legal enforcement of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to meet Europe’s electronic waste challenges.

In its position paper on the EU’s Circular Economy Package, released today (15 September), ERP attributed poor performance in the recycling sector to a lack of compliance and enforcement and called upon governments to ‘ensure fair competition’ and ‘prevent free-riding’. Such moves, it says, would increase benefits for consumers and improve environmental protection.

The call comes after a new study funded by the EU, Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT), confirmed that only a third of Europe’s e-waste is legally recycled, and also urged the European Commission and national authorities to fight the illegal trade of WEEE.

Responding to the figures, ERP notes: ‘Too many of our unwanted devices are either treated improperly inside Europe, scavenged for valuable parts, or end up outside Europe as illegal e-waste shipments. The total economic loss, equivalent to the value of the resources and materials lost from the legal compliance system, amounts to €1.7 billion [£1.25 billion]. In addition, illegal and sub-standard WEEE handling leads to health issues and severe environmental pollution, e.g. heavy metals being released into the soil.’

Circular economy represents a ‘unique chance’

ERP’s position paper on the Circular Economy Package reads: ‘The transition to a circular economy is a unique chance for the environment, global competitiveness and consumer protection in Europe. By creating a political framework that motivates investment and innovation, the EU can pave the way for a successful future of the European resource economy.’

The paper goes on to call for the Circular Economy Package to include:

  • ‘ambitious and measurable resource efficiency and recycling targets for different waste streams’ that ‘take into account different national conditions’ and the challenges and opportunities for different material streams;
  • a ‘transparent, practicable and comprehensible model that avoids unnecessarily complex data processing’;
  • the strengthening of landfill bans, and an extension of the ban to the incineration of recyclable materials;
  • a strategy that stimulates entrepreneurship and open markets, ‘so that new and sustainable business models and experimental innovations can be developed to deliver the resource efficient circular economy’;
  • an extension of producer responsibility to waste streams other than packaging, WEEE and waste portable batteries; and
  • continued emphasis on ‘the need for enforcement to prevent free-riding, poor-quality treatment and illegal waste shipments’ involving e-waste.

Emphasis on ‘improving international cooperation’

Commenting on the release of the position paper, Umberto Raiteri, ERP President and CEO, said: “At ERP, we have been investing heavily in measures to properly manage e-waste and waste portable batteries since 2002. We have continuously and actively raised awareness among consumers, and promoted the importance of recycling across Europe. As experts in collecting and recycling electronic waste, we are happy to share our know-how and assist European governments to address this issue as soon as possible. As the only group of compliance schemes directly present in 17 European countries – and with a further presence in 15 more countries through our multi-national partnerships – ERP can play a key role in enforcing this legislation and improving international cooperation.”

He added: “At ERP, we continue to work on improving standards, e.g. the WEEELABEX certification that sets out a coherent, pan-European and comprehensive set of technical requirements for WEEE operations. We want to improve the current situation in Europe and make sure that we capture all the available economic and environmental benefits from electronic waste.”

Find out more about ERP’s circular economy position paper