European E-Waste Directive Delayed Until 2011

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Rules governing the recycling of old IT equipment have been delayed yet again, after the WEEE directive was pushed back until 2011

The European e-waste directive, better known as Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment or WEEE, is facing more delays after it emerged that the revised legislation will not reach the European Parliament until 2011.

This is now the third time that WEEE has been pushed back. The European Parliament had been due to vote on a revision to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive this month, which was intended to address some shortcomings and ambiguities in the legislation as it currently stands. These proposed changes include the introduction of a higher collection target and a separate reuse target.

The EU WEEE Directive was created to counter the environmental and health impacts of e-waste, through reuse and recycling. This is because e-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the EU, predicted by the UN University to grow to 12 million tonnes per year by 2020.

e-Waste Timebomb

Indeed, 67 percent of e-waste collected in the EU is completely unaccounted for, either landfilled, sent to sub standard treatment facilities or illegally exported. This means that only a third of all old IT equipment in the EU is currently being treated according to the WEEE Directive.

And with the imminent PC refresh expected soon in many businesses due to the arrival of Windows 7, the issue is only to get worse.

Meanwhile Computer Aid International, which recently launched its first solar powered Internet café in Kenya to enable rural communities with no electricity to get online, continues to urge firms to hand over their old PCs to reuse programmes.

The charity also expressed its frustration at the delay to the WEEE directive.

Not Taking It Seriously

“The review process that began in 2008 by the EU gave some hope that the WEEE Directive was heading in the right direction,” said Haley Bowcock, Environmental Advocacy Officer at Computer Aid. “But successive delays in the process can’t help but make one wonder that the EU is not taking the issue seriously, and is twiddling its thumbs as the e-waste piles up.”

Indeed, Computer Aid issued a special report last month, highlighting radical changes across a number of fronts that the EU must focus on to improve the WEEE Directive and mitigate the damaging impact of e-waste in and beyond the EU. These include new, higher targets, better policing and streamlined procedures.

“E-waste is an area that we believe must be taken extremely seriously. We are disappointed that this is not the case,” said Tony Roberts, CEO and Founder at Computer Aid.

“Strengthening of WEEE is an urgent priority as two thirds of e-waste is not treated according to law. Europe must clamp down on environmental crime and lead the way in managing EEE across the world, by implementing higher reuse and treatment targets,” he added. “The WEEE Directive is failing. Changes need to be effected now, not in 2011 or 2012.”

Meanwhile, it seems the issue of e-waste is starting to gain recognition in the United States, after the US’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added the disposal of electronic waste, or e-waste, to a list of the agency’s top priorities.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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