ELECTRONIC WASTE RECYCLING
European WEEE volumes not increasing / Different, market-led approach in US / EU parliament votes for tougher regulations
Several speakers at the “10th International Electronics Recycling Congress” (www.icm.ch), held from January 19-21 in Salzburg / Austria, agreed that the volume of plastic waste being recovered under European Waste Electronic and Electric Equipment (WEEE) legislation is not increasing above the minimum statutory level. Many believe this is due to the fact that OEMs are adopting a minimum-cost approach that inevitably leads to the recovered waste being at the lowest possible level to satisfy the legislation.

The US approach is different. Here, a large number of electronics manufacturers and branded OEMs have signed up to a measuring system known as the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT; www.epeat.net). EPEAT uses measures such as levels and sources of recycled plastic content to determine a product’s sustainability credentials, and then encourages public sector procurement bodies to purchase the highest-rated products, such as printers and computers. There are three EPEAT ratings: bronze status (when all 23 required criteria are met), silver (meets the 23 required criteria as well as 50% of the 28 optional criteria) and gold (meets all 23 required criteria + 75% of the optional criteria).

One advocate of the market-led US system is Keith Freegard, director of Axion Polymers (Salford, Manchester / UK; www.axionpolymers.com). He says, “EPEAT is more of a positive driver to encourage more recycling in the USA. It’s a pulling-through approach to increasing recycling volumes that will optimise re-use and preservation of our valuable resources.”

If such a positive purchase-based approach were adopted in Europe, it would likely encourage electronic and electrical suppliers to treat plastics recovery and recycling as a desirable and necessary requirement, rather than a matter that increasingly smacks of legislation and “red tape”. The same approach could also be applied to small domestic appliances, says Freegard, as their recycling level across Europe is still quite low when compared with original estimates.
European parliament votes in tougher regulations
But it's not like matters are stagnant in Europe. In a meeting held at the beginning of February, the European parliament voted for tougher regulations on eletronic trash disposal that will require each country to collect 4 kg of such waste per citizen by 2012. In addition, countries are required to process 85% of their electronic waste by 2016.

The more stringent measures are part of an effort to prevent toxic electronic waste from being exported illegally to developing countries where it is then processed in lethally unsafe ways. EU environment ministers and the parliament still have to agree on a revised version of WEEE, which has been in place since 2003.
18.02.2011 Plasteurope.com [218607-0]
Published on 18.02.2011

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