The EU needs to increase checks on electronic waste exports to avoid illegal dumping and stop the shipment of valuable and sometimes rare raw materials outside the bloc, MEPs in the European Parliament's environment committee said, voting to update EU rules on the disposal of waste electronic equipment yesterday (22 June).
The committee adopted, with amendments, a report by German MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz (European People's Party) on a recast of an EU directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) with 54 votes in favour and one against amid three abstentions.
A report on the related Directive on the Restriction of the Use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS), such as lead, mercury and cadmium, which also deals with their substitution, was adopted earlier this month (EURACTIV 03/06/10).
The MEPs urged the EU's 27 member states to tackle illegal shipments of e-waste.
Although only reusable electronic goods may be exported, large amounts of waste are exported illegally to developing countries, where inadequate treatment can have serious health and environmental consequences.
These exports also lead to losses of valuable secondary raw materials and environmental degradation, MEPs stressed, arguing that increased checks on WEEE exports are needed to enforce the directive.
Last week, a European Commission expert group urged the EU to step up the recycling of a number of 'critical' raw materials used in high-tech products, like mobile phones and everyday consumer items (EURACTIV 18/06/10).
Collection target for member states
MEPs also underlined that illegal exports of waste can be tempered by a higher waste collection target.
They voted for a collection target of 85% of all electronic waste produced, and said member states should be responsible for achieving the WEEE collection target rather than producers themselves.
The Commission proposed setting a binding collection target for manufacturers of 65% of the average weight of WEEE put on the market during the preceding two years from 2016. But many stakeholders argue that this target is not feasible, because older goods are often stored or given away rather than thrown away.
EU lawmakers also argued that as member states generate varying levels of waste, they should be free to set higher national targets themselves.
The committee called for separate collection targets for small equipment and lamps, including lamps containing mercury and incandescent light bulbs. MEPs stressed that it is important to ensure that these – and the hazardous substances they contain – are kept out of the general waste stream.
Retailers to help collect small appliances
The MEPs suggested involving retailers more effectively in collecting small appliances like kettles or electronic tooth brushes, which easily end up in the general waste stream and thus escape treatment, reuse or recycling.
The committee said citizens should be allowed to hand back very small appliances to any retailer free of charge.
Member states remain divided
While the Spanish EU Presidency had hoped to reach an agreement on the dossier during its term, discussions will continue under the Belgian EU Presidency.
Countries disagree, for example, on which waste should be covered by the legislation and on whether the term 'producer' should be defined at national or EU level. The definition of 'producer' affects ownership and financial responsibility for the waste.
However, the biggest problem seems to be the Commission's proposal for a collection target of 65% of the weight of WEEE (EURACTIV 23/10/09). Fourteen delegations find the collection target too ambitious and not sufficiently realistic. As an alternative, some suggest achieving this target gradually by reaching 35-50% in 2016 and 65% in 2020, for example.