Industry calls for tougher action on WEEE treated as scrap metal

Hazardous waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is being handled as scrap metal across Europe due to insufficient regulation and monitoring.

According to the WEEE Forum, operators of WEEE collection and processing sites are not accurately documenting and managing WEEE. In a report, ‘WEEE in metal scrap: Issues associated with the treatment of WEEE as metal scrap and how to address them', the industry body finds that producer responsibility organisations (PROs) are not getting reliable information about the amount of WEEE that is sent on as scrap metal without adequate treatment first.

Calling on authorities to penalise facilities that do this, the Brussels-based NGO highlighted that not only is this a health and safety concern, exposing people and the wider environment to hazardous materials, it can also result in lower WEEE tonnages recorded by PROs. This is a compliance problem that means some European countries might fail to meet collection targets set out by the WEEE Directive.

Pascal Leroy, Director General of the WEEE Forum, commented: "Proper treatment should be ensured for WEEE collected with scrap and making it accountable for reaching collection targets".

The problem is exacerbated by the lack of data about the amount of WEEE in scrap metal. In 2018, research published by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) found that, among EU member states, approximately 2.1kg per person of WEEE was collected as scrap metal but not reported. 

Lucia Herreras, Deputy Director General of the WEEE Forum and one of the authors of the report, said: “Due to low levels of enforcement activity, and PROs not having access to scrap facilities for data collection, reliable information on the WEEE tonnages affected by these practices is scarce.

“Finding an appropriate, harmonized methodology to collect data about how much WEEE disappears in the metal scrap stream is crucial to understand what is going on in the e-waste market.”

In response to these issues, the WEEE Forum has called for ‘a redirection of WEEE tonnages into officially reported waste flows’, calling on competent authorities to ‘prohibit the purchasing and processing of scrap metal that contains WEEE unless they are treated and processed by facilities that are officially permitted or certified to do so’.