Challenges and trends in developing the WEEE market in Europe

What are the main trends and challenges in the development of the WEEE market, towards driving a circular economy? Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General, was invited to share the industry’s perspective on the role of WEEE in achieving a circular economy, on the occasion of the 16th edition of the WEEE Conference, hosted by our sister organisation APPLiA Poland.

What are the main trends and challenges in the development of the WEEE market, towards driving a circular economy? Paolo Falcioni, APPLiA Director General, was invited to share the industry’s perspective on the role of WEEE in achieving a circular economy, on the occasion of the 16th edition of the WEEE Conference, hosted by our sister organisation APPLiA Poland.

To truly inherit improved e-waste collection and circularity, we must first acknowledge the existing challenges facing the home appliance industry and where we can improve. Gathering all relevant and available information on raw materials and how it is currently collected is key to improving the overall understanding of the challenge we face when it comes to enhancing both the quality and quantity of recovered secondary raw materials from WEEE. Data is king here, in portraying the current state of the art of the material flows. As Falcioni outlined, while 90% of the materials coming from the officially collected appliances, when they have reached their end of life, are recovered and ready to enter again into the manufacturing circles, “2/3 of precious resources remains undocumented” and is not coming back into material loops as secondary raw material, making it unclear how this waste is collected and thereafter treated. 

In this context, the WEEE Directive has played a pivotal role in contributing to the improvement of the sector’s awareness and visibility of undocumented e-waste. Legislation is undoubtedly an important instrument to be utilised when it comes to setting the right requirements to ensure all waste is correctly collected, reported and treated, to provide a competitive economic environment for all stakeholders, whilst simultaneously stimulating innovation and competition. In a nutshell, Waste legislation should target all actors dealing with waste and give them the same obligations as producers, under the extended producer responsibility principle. “As waste is and will evermore become a resource, it is key for the new markets to create a level-playing field for all involved actors,” Falcioni summarised referencing the importance of preserving the functionality of the EU Single Market, by the means of a harmonised approach to the various circular economy measures, as applied throughout the EU. In the same way in which there is a free market for producers to place new products on the EU market, Falcioni underscored the need to introduce a so-called ‘Single Market for Waste’,  encompassing a free market for dealing exclusively with waste. There, legislation should set the right requirements to ensure all waste is correctly collected, reported, and treated, providing a sufficient competitive economic environment for all involved actors, this way stimulating innovation and competition while protecting health, safety, and the environment. 

So, what role does WEEE have to play in driving a circular economy in Europe? As a global leading sector, , the home appliance industry contributes to circularity by providing secondary raw materials back into many manufacturing material flows, seeking to create and establish innovative solutions which aid the phasing out process of hazardous substances from their products, to facilitate recycling processes and prioritise the use of secondary raw materials. Without doubt, consumer behaviour plays a pivotal role to tackle in the efforts to increase material recovery from WEEE. On this front, APPLiA has orchestrated multiple awareness campaigns on e-waste over the past few years. In particular, we have developed a main website for the public - the Circular Appliances website-, providing ‘all you need to know’ on enhancing circularity and taking EU citizens through the product’s lifecycle, building upon concrete data, all towards showcasing the environmental benefits of resource recovery becoming the standard.“Engaging consumers in adopting sustainable choices, particularly in the way they dispose of old or broken appliances can help in increasing collection and recovery rates, towards the implementation of what we call a ‘Circular Culture’,” concluded Falcioni.