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UN study: EU falls behind e-waste recycling targets

Posted: 26 Nov 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:e-waste recycling? EU efforts? UN study?

The recycling of electronic waste in the European Union falls short of targets, says a study authored by a consortium led by the United Nations University (UNU). The study suggests higher collection rates would not only serve the environment but also the industry.

According to the study, presently only 25 percent of Europe's medium-sized household appliances and 40 percent of larger appliances are collected for salvage or recycling. Small appliances are collected at a quota of almost zero. This leaves "substantial room for improvement," notes study manager Ruediger Kuehr of the UNU office in Bonn, Germany.

Kuehr named a long-term target of 60-percent collection rate for small items such as MP3 players as well as for medium-sized audio equipment, microwave ovens and TV sets. Large appliances like fridges and washing machines could even be collected for recycling at 75 percent. This would yield roughly 5.3 million tons of e-waste by 2011, more than doubling the present amount of 2.2 million tons.

The amount of electronic waste is growing slowly but steadily at a pace of 2.5-2.7 percent per year. The authors expect the pile of electronic rubbish in the EU countries to reach an amount of 12.3 million tons annually by 2020. The EU produces roughly one third of the world's e-waste.

While the EU directive on WEEE prescribes a collection rate of 4kg per capita and year, the rate is divided quite uneven among the EU countries. While the wealthier states easily meet this target, the new members, typically with a lower standard of living, are far from raising this amount. However, the low collection rates observed by the report also result from low public awareness, stated co-author Steve Ogilivie.

"There are clear benefits to the environment to collect and treat all forms of e-waste," said the lead study author Jaco Huisman of UNU. Salvaging and recycling of e-waste benefits the environment in terms of reducing toxic pollution, conserving natural resources and preventing emissions that cause global warming. Top priority is to gain control over chlorofluorocarbons, chemical products that destroy the ozone layer. In addition, recycling and salvaging could help to reduce energy consumption, Huisman said.

The report also highlights the downside of the much-praised energy-saving light bulbs: The 660 million devices sold in the EU only in 2006 contain about 4.3 tons of the extremely toxic mercury, with another 2.8 tons contained in LCD panels.

The study also sates a need for consistent legislation across the EU for registering and reporting with respect to e-waste. Also, bureaucracy keeps particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises from adhering to the EU rules, as companies active in all EU member-states have to file at least 72 different reports.

- Christoph Hammerschmidt
EE Times Europe

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