London, 15th March 2011 - Last night the EU Environment Council was in session in Brussels and reached political agreement on the revised directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). Ministers Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Chris Huhn, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, represented the UK in the Council.
Agreement in the Council is an important step in a process leading to the adoption of a number of proposals to improve the implementation of the WEEE Directive. It follows last month’s vote in the European Parliament, which saw agreement on a bold collection target (85% WEEE arising), separate targets for reuse of whole appliances, and various other proposals. The recast was proposed by the Commission in December 2008.
Improvement to the WEEE Directive is clearly needed: a 2008 review of its performance showed only one third of WEEE collected in the EU is treated according to legal requirements; the rest goes either to landfill or to sub-standard treatment inside or outside the EU. This includes illegal export to developing countries where informal recyclers process the waste, risking their health and polluting the environment.
Key proposals agreed yesterday were:
Scope: all EEE to be covered by the Directive in principle, from six years after entry into force of the new directive (though the Commission can propose changes to the scope after analysing the impact on businesses and the environment) Collection target: currently an annual target of 4kg per inhabitant. Member States must achieve a collection rate of 45% of the electrical and electronic equipment put on the market from four years after the new law comes into effect, to be raised to 65% four years after this.
Recovery: Increase in recovery and recycling by 5% three years after the entry into force of the new rules, with reuse of whole appliances counting towards recovery targets
The next step in the process is negotiation for an agreement with the European Parliament, expected to take place in the second half of this year.
Computer Aid’s Environmental Advocacy Officer, Haley Bowcock said “With the EU expected to generate some 12 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment per year by 2020, we are frustrated that the European Council is taking such a softly-softly approach in addressing the looming e-waste crisis. With only one third of e-waste collected in the EU being treated according to the requirements of legislation, it is clear the bold changes to the WEEE Directive are necessary to mitigate the environmental and health risks posed by e-waste. We hope that negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament later this year yield a Directive that is as bold in ambition as the exploding e-waste problem is serious”
Haley Bowcock explains ‘Last month, the European Parliament appeared to see the huge human and environmental health threats as well as the huge resource potential inherent to e-waste, and agreed to some of the more ambitious proposals to fix the WEEE Directive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Council. While it is good to see that the Council agreed that the directive should cover all appliances and force the collection and recovery of more WEEE, we are dismayed that the Council has chosen a much more tepid collection target. The Council’s decision means that only 45% of EEE put on market from four years after the new Directive comes into force will need to be collected, compared to 85% WEEE arising proposed by the European Parliament. This will leave 55% of e-waste unaccounted for which will continue to get sent to landfill or to other substandard treatment routes. The council’s decision is an opportunity missed, since more WEEE collected through the proper channels means more e-waste is treated properly and less e-waste goes to landfill.
“Including the reuse of whole appliances in the recovery targets, as opposed to components only, is a step forward. But because the reuse target is not separated from the target for recycling, this is likely to mean that recycling gets favoured over reuse in practice because current infrastructure is geared towards this management method. It is clear that we need to go much further when setting targets for e-waste recovery in order to reap the superior benefits of reuse over recycling.”
Computer Aid International disappointed by lack of ambition regarding changes to EU e-waste legislation