This January’s International Electronics Recycling Congress in the Austrian city of Salzburg was held against the backdrop of the revision of the EU’s Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), on which the European Parliament voted positively a few days later. Higher collection rates and prevention of illegal exports are among the main thrusts of the new policy document.
The philosophy behind the goal of creating a Recycling Society within Europe was addressed by one of the keynote speakers, Julio Garcia Burgues, Director of the Waste Management Unit of the European Commission. ‘Today, Europe faces a dual challenge: first, stimulating the growth needed to provide jobs and well-being to citizens; secondly, ensuring that growth leads to a sustainable future. To tackle these challenges and turn them into opportunities, our economy will require a fundamental transformation within one generation,’ he said
E-waste still growing
Each year in the EU, some 2.7 billion tonnes of waste is thrown away. On average, only 40% of municipal waste is re-used or recycled; the rest goes to landfill or incineration. According to a study published in mid-January by the European Commission, full implementation of EU waste legislation would save Euro 72 billion a year (US$ 93.7 billion) and create over 400 000 jobs by the year 2020.
E-waste generation is still increasing: electrical and electronic waste is expected to increase by roughly 11% between 2008 and 2014. And this is one of the waste streams with the greatest value in terms of recycling: not only gold, silver and copper but also rare earths are contained in significant volumes within e-waste.
The EU’s WEEE Directive was adopted 10 years ago to address these challenges ‘and its implementation has clearly been a success’, Mr Burgues noted. ‘The current annual collection target is 4 kg per capita. This means that, with 500 million people living in the EU, every year around two million tonnes of e-waste have to be collected, properly treated, and made available for material recovery. Although some member states are lagging behind, many others are already well above the WEEE collection target.’
WEEE Directive recast
Addressing the recast of the WEEE Directive that, at the time of the IERC, was about to be adopted, Mr Burgues called it ‘a true milestone in our road to an efficient Recycling Society’. He highlighted some of the main changes in the new legislation. ‘First, the new directive has a much higher level of ambition. Seven years after the entry into force of the directive, an amount equivalent to 85% of e-waste annually generated in the 27 member states will have to be properly collected, treated and recycled. In total volume, this means about 10 million tonnes per year of e-waste – a 500% increase from the current target.’
According to Mr Burgues, prevention of illegal exports of e-waste is one of the key objectives of the new directive. ‘The burden of proof to show that exports of used equipment are not just waste will be shifted to the exporters themselves,’ he noted. ‘This should make the enforcement work of customs officers much easier.’
The new version of the WEEE Directive demands that all EU member states must increase their collection of e-waste, regardless of whether they already meet the current flat-rate target of 4 kg per person per year. By 2016, most will have to collect 45 tonnes of e-waste for every 100 tonnes of e-goods put on the market three years previously. By 2019, this must rise to a rate of 65%, or alternatively they can collect a comparable figure of 85% of e-waste generated.
The 11th International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2012, organized by Swiss company ICM AG took place in Salzburg, Austria from January 18 – 20, 2012 and attracted a record attendance of more than 475 delegates from 35 countries. In addition, the event drew 56 exhibitors to the parallel trade show – including equipment manufacturers and service providers. Over the years, IERC has become the international platform for discussion of the latest developments and challenges relating to worldwide waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
The 12th International Electronics Recycling Congress IERC 2013 will take place from January 16 – 18, 2013 in Salzburg, Austria.