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Europe should raise its game on electronic recycling, says UN

The European Union (EU) should not only increase the waste electrical equipment it collects for recycling and salvage, it should prioritise collecting items posing dangerous environmental problems, a United Nations (UN) report has claimed. Written for the European Commission, the United Nations University (UNU) led study concluded only 25% of Europes medium-sized household appliances and 40% of larger appliances are collected for salvage and recycling, leaving substantial room for improvement. Furthermore, small appliances, with few exceptions, are rarely collected for recycling and reuse. So, the study proposes long-term collection rate targets of around 60% for small appliances such as MP3 players and hairdryers; plus medium-sized audio equipment, microwaves and televisions; and 75% for large appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines. This would lead to a European harvest of roughly 5.3 million tonnes of electronic waste (e-waste) by 2011, up from 2.2 million tonnes today, said study UNU manager Ruediger Kuehr. The report predicts EU-generated electronic waste will rise 2.5-2.7% annually - from 10.3 million tonnes in 2005 to roughly 12.3 million tonnes by 2020. Study lead author Jaco Huisman said collection should initially focus on environmental problem-cases, with differentiated collection targets for different e-wastes. His top priority: recovering chlorofluorocarbons in old refrigerators. A rise from the 27% collection rate in 2005 to 75% by 2011 would mean a major reduction of chemicals destroying the ozone layer, preventing 34 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Consumers also need advice on disposing of energy saving light bulbs, because of their mercury content, he added.

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