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EU’s New WEEE Directive Fails On Reuse, Says Computer Aid

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

The EU has forgotten that re-use is better than recycling, says charity Computer Aid

The EU has updated the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, and British IT charity Computer Aid has expressed its ‘extreme disappointment’ at the lack of focus on the reuse of old IT equipment.

The charity, which sends refurbished PCs for use in developing countries,  said it was ‘dismayed’ by the lack of importance placed on reuse in the revised WEEE legislation, although it welcomed the fact that other parts of the rules have been strengthened last week, when the European Parliament (EP) voted on a revision to the existing directive.

WEEE Revision

“Whilst the vote demonstrates the ever-growing and welcome political will behind the pressing problem of e-waste, Computer Aid fears that the recast legislation represents a step in the wrong direction,” said the charity. “The new text of the WEEE Directive appears to overlook the EU’s very own waste hierarchy, which encourages the prevention of waste, followed by the reuse and refurbishment of goods, then value recovery through recycling and finally energy recovery.”

“Instead, the recast puts the emphasis on the recovery and recycling processes over and above the less energy intensive reuse path for electronic goods,” it said.

Under the new WEEE legislation, all member states have to collect the current rate of 4kg (8.8 pounds) of e-waste per person per year. But by 2016, member states will need to collect 45 tonnes of e-waste for every 100 tonnes of electronic goods put on the market over the previous three years, increasing to 65 tonnes in 2019, or alternatively member states will be able to choose to collect 85 percent of total e-waste generated.

It also places an e-waste requirement on large shops (with a floor space of more than 400 sq metres) selling electronic items. They will be obliged to take back small items, regardless of whether the customer purchases an item in the store.

Cleaning up the dirty dumpers

In addition, the directive promises to tighten controls on e-waste exports, and will require exporters to demonstrate that their goods are being shipped for repair or legitimate reuse, in order to prevent the dumping of potentially toxic e-waste in developing nations for example.

Computer Aid said that it welcomed all these additions.

“Of course Computer Aid wholeheartedly welcomes the additions to the Directive, having higher recycling collection targets and tighter border controls on e-waste exports, will help to reduce the amount of electronic equipment either being sent to landfill or being illegally exported to developing countries,” said Anja ffrench, Director of Communications at Computer Aid. “We are nonetheless extremely disappointed that no reuse target has been included.”

“The suggested 5 percent reuse target put forward by the EP earlier in the year was, in our opinion, already far too low,” she added. “Through our work, Computer Aid is acutely aware of the value of reuse, especially for ICT equipment. In Europe computers and laptops are almost always replaced long before the end of their productive lives and can be used for at least a further three to four years.”

By avoiding the inclusion of a reuse target, the EP not only ignores the environmental benefits of reuse but also reduces the potential opportunities for social inclusion and development that more affordable reused electronic equipment can bring. Including a reuse target would have ensured that reuse really occurs and would help to raise awareness of the need to consider reuse before opting for the less environmentally friendly option of recycling,” she said. “The EP has clearly wasted a significant opportunity to improve the environmental and social impact of the Directive.”

Pathetic Target

And it is worth noting that Computer Aid is not alone in this view.

Last October electronic repairs company Comtek branded the European Union’s five percent e-waste reuse target as ‘pathetic’, claiming it will do little to curb the impact of e-waste on the environment.