New EU Law Clamps Down on Electronic Waste

On Monday a European Union law that will require all large electronic retailers to take back old equipment came into force.

The new rules are part of a shake-up of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and will gradually be implemented across the E.U. over the next seven years.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment, or WEEE, is one the fastest growing waste streams in the E.U., but currently only one-third of electrical and electronic waste is separately collected and appropriately treated. Systematic collection and proper treatment is essential for recycling materials like gold, silver, copper and rare metals in used TVs, laptops and mobile phones.

The revised directive will increase the collection target from its current 4 kilograms per capita to around 20 kg per capita by 2020. By 2020, it is estimated that the volume of WEEE will increase to 12 million tons and the E.U. authorities want to see at least 85 percent of that collected and treated. From 2018, the directive will be extended from its current restricted scope to all categories of electronic waste.

Meanwhile the retailer take-back plan means that by February 2014 at the latest, larger electrical goods stores, with a shop space of 400 square meters or larger, will have to accept small WEEE items, such as mobile phones, free of charge, without consumers having to purchase a new product.

The revised directive also includes a clampdown on illegal exports of waste electronic equipment. Equipment that is no longer under warranty can only be exported to non-OECD countries if it has been certified to be fully functional and sent properly.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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