Tuesday, 1 September 2015


More than six million tonnes of electronic waste discarded in the EU did not end up in official collection and recycling systems, according to a two-year investigation coordinated by Interpol.

Publishing its report today, the Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) project found that 65% of the EU’s 6.15 million tonnes of e-waste was exported; recycled under non-compliant conditions in Europe (3.15 million tonnes); scavenged for valuable parts (750,000 tonnes); or was thrown in waste bins (750,000 tonnes).

The project, which also involved the WEEE Forum, United Nations University and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, found that there is ten times more illicitly traded or unregulated e-waste in Europe itself than is exported overseas.

Widespread theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals from waste electronics results in an annual loss of materials and resources for compliant waste processors of between €800 million and €1.7 billion, it found.

Regulations required by the latest version of the EU WEEE directive have not been implemented in 30% of EU member states, the report states. National penalties for infractions are not high enough to act as a deterrent and are rarely used. Just 0.5% of EU e-waste exports are stopped and the perpetrators sentenced, fined or given a civil penalty, the researchers said.

The project unearthed cases of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering related to e-waste. One of its key recommendations if that penalties are harmonised across the EU to simplify enforcement in trans-border cases, and to prevent criminals from shifting activities to lower-risk countries in Europe where legal and financial penalties are lower.

“The law enforcement community needs to be more pro-active with illicit e-waste investigations, complemented by strengthened prosecution and sentencing,” said David Higgins, assistant director of Interpol’s environmental security sub-directorate.

The project team also recommended more cooperation between those involved in e-waste nationally and internationally to tackle the problem. Law enforcement should be coordinated through a national environmental security taskforce formed by different authorities and partners, it said.

Treatment of WEEE according to approved standards should be mandatory, as should dedicated reporting of treatment, it said.

Recent research by the University of Sheffield found that the value of recyclable waste electrical and electronic equipment could reach €3.6 billion in Europe by 2020. Between 30 and 50 million tonnes of WEEE is discarded globally each year, a volume which is expected to increase by up to 5% as consumers replace old products with newer ones, the researchers predicted.

Sources: Catherine Early, IEMA, The Environmentalist.

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