With time running out to get on top of the issue, we must act now. E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in Europe and only 40% of it is being recycled. With time running out to get on top of the issue, we must act now. Recent WEEE Forum figures highlight the rise in WEEE generated from 8.3 Mt in 2010 to 10.4 Mt in 2021, the equivalent of 19.6kg produced per inhabitant. A worryingly high rate of e-waste generation per capita. But what can be done to truly gain the upper hand?
To address the problem, the landmark WEEE Directive, enforced 20 years ago, has put forward the legal obligation for producers of electronic products to register and report WEEE flows. However, the market reality today has changed drastically, showing that there are other actors handling WEEE who can easily bypass such reporting obligations, making it almost impossible to monitor and track e-waste flows. To close the loop on e-waste, “all actors handling WEEE should have a legal obligation based on their actual means of leverage, this way ensuring a level-playing field that matches market realities,” said Korrina Hegarty, APPLiA Environment Policy Director. Alternatively, “any actor handling e-waste would mandatorily be required to hand over the WEEE they collect to producer responsibility organisations.” This can be achieved through the legal footing of a harmonised ‘all actors concept’, entailing strong and effective control and enforcement across EU Member States.
For Europe to achieve its set collection and recycling targets, and truly prevent e-waste from undergoing substandard treatment or being illegally exported, we must recognise the fact that the Extended Producer Responsibility Principle, as set up under the original WEEE Directive, is out of date and has not been meeting the development of market realities. EPR was first introduced in Europe in the 1990s as a way to reduce the amount of waste produced by the Continent, by requiring producers to take responsibility for managing the generated waste. However, other actors outside EPR channels, driven by commercial considerations, handle significant volumes of waste which do not enter formal EPR systems. As a direct effect, not all WEEE is being recovered and recycled properly. “While producers have taken an active role in fulfilling their legal obligations, other WEEE actors in the value chain also have responsibilities to ensure all WEEE is accounted for and treated properly,” continued Hegarty, highlighting also the important role of consumers in the disposal of their electrical products.
Korrina Hegarty, APPLiA Policy Director Environment, spoke as part of a panel discussion on the future of e-waste at WEEE Forum's EPR Grand Challenge Conference. The event took place in the context of the upcoming evaluation of the WEEE Directive, with an eye to investigating the challenges and the potential solutions to further improve the level of WEEE collected and properly treated and recycled across the EU.