The recent International Electronics Recycling Congress in Salzburg, Austria, saw more than 500 delegates gather to discuss the challenges faced as we move to a circular economy (CE).
The need to reassess current technologies and European regulations was high on the agenda.
The event provided an opportunity for the WEEE Forum and the European Electronics Recyclers Association (EERA) to launch a petition to introduce mandatory EU treatment standards and EN 50625 compliance for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
Currently, the treatment of WEEE differs widely between member states, with substantial variance on raw materials recycling, monitoring and control procedures, depollution performance and more.
The recent EU-funded project Countering WEEE Illegal Trade revealed that 65% of discarded WEEE is either exported or recycled under non-compliant conditions in Europe, is scavenged for valuable parts or thrown in waste bins. So there is plenty of work to be done, not only to stop significant environmental damage but also to prevent valuable resource loss. Some member states, including Ireland, France and the Netherlands, have legislation in place legally requiring WEEE treatment facilities to adhere to the standards set by EN 50625, but most do not. This mismatch of standards has resulted in below-par EU-wide performance when it comes to WEEE recycling. While some member states are looking at compliance, most prefer to wait until there is a legal obligation to do so.
Complacency should not be an option as we make the transition to a CE. The difficulty arises if one country decides to make compliance to the EN 50625 series of standards mandatory, because certain quantities of WEEE will ‘leak’ to other member states where compliance is not legally required.
The situation creates a distortion across the EU’s recycling market, resulting in sub-standard recycling quality and loss of resources.
In other words, if compliance with the EN 50625 treatment standards remains voluntary, or mandatory in only a couple of member states, a significant part of the WEEE stream will continue to be treated sub-optimally.
The petition from EERA and the WEEE Forum outlines: “In order to level the WEEE playing field in Europe, the EN 50625 treatment series of standards should be made mandatory for all treatment facilities of WEEE in the EU. Treatment of WEEE outside the EU should take place in conditions that are equivalent to those applicable in the EU. This will significantly increase the quality level in the recycling of WEEE and will have a positive impact on the EU’s ambitious goals of a CE.”
Surely this is a common target that we should collectively be working to achieve?
Viewpoint: WEEE Ireland
The Republic of Ireland is one of only three countries in Europe with mandatory WEEE recycling standards in place since 2014.
WEEE Ireland, the compliance scheme for recycling household WEEE and waste batteries, welcomed the call on the European Commission to take appropriate measures to make compliance with the EN 50625 standards mandatory and standards on WEEE recycling legally binding across the EU.
Leo Donovan, chief executive of WEEE Ireland, said: “The significance of recycling standards has never been more important against the backdrop of the proposed circular economy package. If we want to become more resource efficient and sustainable from an environmental and financial perspective, we must have authorised recycling and recovery facilities all operating to high-quality standards.
“There is no room for cowboy management of WEEE as we move toward a more resource-efficient future.
“The Irish waste landscape has changed completely in the 10 years WEEE Ireland has been in existence, and we are among the leaders in Europe in collection and recycling environmental target achievements. But we need to have a level playing field and cost-effective solutions for producers to compete across Europe. .”
WEEE Ireland uses Weeelabex-certified facilities in Ireland including Irish Lamp Recycling in Athy, KMK Metal Recycling in Tullamore and the Recycling Village in Duleek. The Weeelabex and EN standards ensure proper removal of hazardous materials in old and broken appliances along with high-level recovery of the useful fractions that they contain.
Dr Philip Morton is WEEE Forum president and chief executive of producer compliance scheme Repic