European countries should look at their own poor enforcement of electronic waste management laws before blaming exporters dumping old computers in Africa for their failure to meet key environmental targets, a new report claims today.
Research undertaken by INTERPOL and the United Nations among others, shows 10 times more discarded electronics are mismanaged within Europe than are exported.
The study, Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT), confirms the EU remains way off track in its efforts to meet its e-waste goals, which are designed to ensure the environmentally safe disposal of computers, hairdryers, and other electrical goods that contain toxic components. 
Just 35 per cent of the 9.5 million tonnes of electrical equipment chucked out by Europeans in 2012 was disposed of in an environmentally safe manner, causing pollution and forcing countries to miss out on valuable tax receipts, the report states.
The current level of eWaste recovery is far below the EU’s minimum collection targets of 45 per cent next year, rising to 65 per cent by 2019.
The remaining ewaste – totalling an estimated 6.2 million tonnes – was exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions, scavenged for valuable parts, or simply thrown in waste bins.
Electronic equipment contains hazardous waste that if mismanaged can cause major environment and health problems. It also leads to the waste of valuable resources, such as gold, copper, and tin, that could otherwise be reused. 
IT and electronics manufacturers are required to safely dispose of e-waste under the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic recycling (WEEE) Directive, which bans waste electronic products from being sent to landfill or exported to developing countries where the harmful chemicals many products can pollute soil and water supplies.
But the new report gives weight to critics who have argued the WEEE regulation “lacks teeth” and that there has been insufficient investment in enforcing it.
Significantly, the report shows just 16 per cent of e-waste is exported, with the remainder mismanaged in Europe.

Jaco Huisman, scientific coordinator of CWIT, said the report shows European countries they can overcome many of the hurdles faced by the sector through better enforcement at a national level. “A lot of coverage in the past has focused on the dumping of e-waste, particularly in Africa,” he told BusinessGreen. “It still is a significant problem but what we found in this report, for the first time ever, is that  in Europe is that there’s a lot of mismanagement and other activities that are not up to date. So a lot of the public opinion is basically focusing on pollution far away from us, but our report shows that with all of the flows in Europe there are other issues at stake.”
For example, the report finds a lack of security at e-waste collection points in many European countries leaves them open to widespread scavenging of valuable components, such as circuit boards and rare earth metals, from e-waste.
The research estimates this lack of enforcement costs compliant waste processors €800m to €1.7bn through lost tax receipts and resources. The avoided costs of compliance with EU regulations, is estimated at €150m to €600m annually, the report adds.
Pascal Leroy, secretary-general of the WEEE Forum and an Interpol representative, said  European member states needed to take a dual approach of raising more public awareness of e-waste disposal sites, as well as harmonising the penalty system for criminals targetting the sector across the bloc.
“A lot has happened since the first directive entered into force in 2002 in terms of collection points but still there’s scope for improvement because they are often not visible,” he told BusinessGreen. “Some countries, such as the Nordic countries, are aware of where to dispose of their e-waste, as well as Switzerland and Belgium. But in some eastern European countries, people don’t know exactly where to dispose of e-waste or they have to travel a long distance to do so.”
The new research sheds light on how Europe’s electronic waste management could be improved, now it is up to countries to take action.
Source: Recycling BG

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