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18th Jun 2018

Electronic gadgets: less EU dumping in Africa

  • Burkina Faso dump: scavenged electronic items often contain harmful substances (Photo: Marco Bellucci)

The European Parliament on Thursday (20 January) said the EU should toughen-up a new law aimed at reducing the mountains of discarded electronic gadgets from Europe that end up in landfills and dumps in developing countries.

The sector is currently governed by legislation dating back to 2003. The European Commission had proposed to set new mandatory collection targets equal to 65 percent of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market in each member state.

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But MEPs have said up to 85 percent of all discarded printers, TVs, mobile phones - and just about anything else with electronic circuitry - to be collected and properly recovered by each member state starting in 2016.

Depending on the category, MEPs want 70 percent to 85 percent of the waste to be recovered and another 50 percent to 75 percent recycled. They propose a separate 5 percent re-use target so that more functional goods get a new lease of life instead of being scrapped.

"We can no longer afford to waste our waste. Parliament has sent a strong message that public authorities, manufacturers and consumers all need to play their part to ensure we collect and recycle more of our electrical and electronic goods. We have also set out stricter rules to stop potentially harmful waste being illegally shipped to developing countries," said Karl-Heinz Florenz, a German MEP from the centre-right group EPP.

The parliament proposals - passed by a whopping 580-strong majority - will now be taken by EU countries before the bill becomes law.

A Danish investigative journalist club, DanWatch revealed last November that the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Spain are the top seven European countries that export used computers to, for instance, Ghana.

Around 40 percent of the scrap ends up in the African country's Agbogbloshie dumpsite where thousands of people - including children - rummage through it to extract small amounts of valuable components like silver, gold, palladium, copper and indium.

Electric devices also contain hazardous substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury.

Cadmium is particularly toxic and is found in rechargeable computer batteries as well as contacts and switches in older CRT monitors. Mercury is used in lighting devices in flat screen TVs and can damage the nervous system. Long-term exposure to the substances, according to DanWatch, can result in infertility, miscarriage, tumors, endocrine diseases and birth defects.

To help tackle the problem, customers in the EU can return unwanted electronic devices free of charge to large shops who will then dispose of the object in accordance with the updated law. Larger items, like refrigerators and freezers, are to be recycled by the manufacturer.

"Europe will now recover more raw materials, which is excellent news both for the economy and for the environment," Florenz said.

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