Last Thursday the European Parliament voted to press ahead with plans to tighten up the rules on waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE). They also want to make the rules simpler and introduce tougher measures to prevent the export of e-waste to developing countries.
The European Parliament has proposed a 2012 target for Member States to collect 4kg of e-waste per inhabitant (the existing level) or the same weight as in 2010, whichever is greater. But by 2016 the figure goes up to 85% of the e-waste they produce.
The legislation is not just about safe disposal, though. MEP’s recommended a 50-75% recycling target (depending on the material involved) in order to reclaim valuable raw materials, and a new 5% re-use goal.
With a significant amount of e-waste declared as "reusable" and illegally exported for treatment in developing countries, the European Parliament also supported the Commission’s proposals for stricter inspections of shipments. Parliament believes that the exporter should carry the burden of proof that goods are reusable.
But MEPs did also acknowledge the need for more standardised registration and reporting to simplify the rules and reduce the cost of compliance, for instance by reducing the number of electrical equipment categories. In addition, the Parliament is looking to manufacturers of electronic goods to pay towards treatment as well as respecting eco-design rules and creating products that are easier to repair or recycle (such as the laptop I reported on last week).
Karl-Heinz Florenz (EPP, DE), who steered the draft legislation through Parliament, commented that "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."
The next step is the the proposals go to the European Council, which will consider the European Parliament’s position ahead of a possible second reading.
It’s not unexpected, given the rumblings about how some countries were avoiding their responsibilities under the WEEE legislation and the amount of e-waste being exported to developing countries. The rules need to be tighter and the penalties higher if the EU is serious about ensuring the legislation is adhered to.
But there must also be an onus on electronics equipment manufacturers, particularly in the ICT industry, to do their bit. Collecting their e-waste is important and supporting the recycling effort is helpful, but it would also be very useful if products were designed with recycling in mind in the first place. If they could be stripped down to their main material components quickly and easily much of the problem would disappear. Perhaps that should be a defining criteria of green ICT equipment – maybe also included in Greenpeace’s Greener Electronics Guide?