WEEE reprocessors in the EU are losing up to €1.7bn (£1.25bn) annually due to mismanagement or crime, according to a new report.
The two-year investigation, conducted by Interpol in conjunction with the United Nations University (UNU), found that 4.7 million tonnes of WEEE was being lost yearly within the union.
The widespread theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals results in a serious loss of materials and resources for compliant waste processors in Europe.
Avoiding costs of compliance with EU regulations, mainly to do with de-pollution, is esrtimated to be as much as €600m annually.
Interpol’s research concluded that, each year, only 2,000 tonnes (0.5%) of WEEE exports from the EU were stopped in operations leading to some form of sentencing, administrative fines or civil penalties.
One-third of EU members have not implemented stringent regulations required under the latest WEEE Directive, and national penalties for infractions are insufficiently high enough to deter illicit exporters.
The Interpol report suggests harmonising penalties across the EU to simplify enforcement in trans-border cases and prevent criminals from shifting activities to ‘lower-risk’ EU countries.
The UNU is a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation based in Japan.
UNU scientific adviser Jaco Huisman said: “The unique value of the project is the simultaneous provision of both facts and market analysis, as well as detailed scrutiny of the legal framework and the law enforcement chain.
“The dedicated roadmap developed for improving collection and treatment of e-waste in Europe will be a valuable result for all parties involved.”
Recently published research found that more effective recycling of WEEE could be worth an annual £2.7bn to the European market by the end of the decade.