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1st Mar 2024

Only a third of Europe's e-waste is recycled

  • A lot of electronic waste ends up outside of Europe, such as in Ghana (Photo: Vibek Raj Maurya)

The European Commission is not planning to introduce an EU-wide ban on cash transactions for scrap metal, or set up an EU waste agency, as recommended in a report about illegal dumping of electronic equipment waste, or e-waste.

The EU-funded report, published Sunday (30 August) by a consortium of seven organisations including Interpol and two United Nations bodies, concluded that only 35 percent of electronic waste was properly recycled in 2012.

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The rest, an estimated 6.15 million tonnes, was exported, sometimes illegally; scavenged for parts; thrown in the waste bin; or recycled but not according to EU rules.

“Around 750,000 tonnes of mainly small appliances end up in the waste bin, with varying amounts per country of between 1 and 2kg per inhabitant per year,” the report said.

EU countries from next year are required to collect 45 percent of all e-waste, which may be old refrigerators, but also discarded mobile phones, or stolen metal sold for scrap metal.

The European commission in an e-mailed response to this website noted that several of the report's recommendations directed at the EU were already being carried out. In other cases the commission disagreed with the advice.

No cash for metal in France

The report, for example, called a French ban on cash transactions for scrap metal “an important step in reducing the profitability of illegal trade”. If metal thieves have to receive their money electronically, they are more easily traceable.

“The success of this measure is evident in the displaced illegal activities across French borders into neighbouring countries in which the ban is not applicable”, the report said, proposing an EU-wide ban on cash payments for scrap metal.

But while the European Commission's environment spokesperson Enrico Brivio acknowledged that such a ban “is a useful tool”, he expressed doubt about the need for such rules across the EU.

The commission also sees no need to set up an EU waste agency, as suggested by the report. Brivio said that "already existing" organisations and networks could instead be "further developed".

Several other recommendations, like harmonising definitions regarding e-waste crimes, and establishing reporting obligations for everyone in the e-waste chain, are already under way, he noted.

The EU changed rules on e-waste in 2012 but some of them are still being implemented.

The authors of the report also noted that harmonising penalties for e-waste crimes “would facilitate investigations, prosecution and sentencing and thus, would create a true disincentive for offenders”.

Brivio said that when the commission carries out its EU review of its policies on environmental crime next year, it will also look at the need to harmonise penalties.

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