EU revamps e-waste rules

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A massive overhaul could be underway for the way in which electronic waste is handled.

The European Union has revamped its rules regarding e-waste, and the new terms are officially in effect. The changes could now trigger a fundamental change in how technology companies, retailers, recycling firms and consumers handle old electronic equipment.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive originally came into effect in 2003. The updates will impose a series of ambitious new e-waste recovery and recycling targets. These targets will specifically affect the IT and electronic industry. The new mandate will also introduce tough penalties for companies and member states who refuse to follow the rules.

The original WEEE decree represented the world’s first thorough e-waste legislation. It placed a “producer responsibility” on manufacturers — making them legally and financially responsible for the safe collection and disposal of old equipment.

But despite its mission, the directive has been widely criticized in recent years. Some say it doesn’t do the job of promoting the re-use and recycling of valuable electronic resources. And that it also fails to crack down on the illegal export of old equipment to developing countries for scrap.

The European Parliament approved changes to the directive last month. The new legislation significantly strengthens a range of e-waste regulations. It also imposes new targets on members states. Each country will now be required to collect 45% of electronic equipment sold for approved recycling or disposal from 2016, rising to 65% of equipment sold or 85% of electronic waste generated by 2019 — depending on which goal member states choose to adopt.

Another highlight is that the directive will be extended to include all categories of electronic waste. Until now, many different types of equipment were exempt from the rules. That’s because manufacturers had argued they were too difficult to collect or recycle.

The legislation will also give governments new powers. These powers will make it easier for businesses and consumers to dispose of e-waste in an environmentally-responsible way, while also increasing penalties for firms found to be illegally exporting it.

The EU anticipates the new directive will have a huge impact on the e-waste recycling sector. It hopes the legislation will deliver a five-fold increase in the amount of equipment that is collected. This would ultimately make it easier for firms to start extracting more valuable materials such as gold, silver, copper and rare metals.

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