The amount of electronic waste, also known as WEEE, is continuing to grow each year globally. Everything from TV’s, washing machines and computers are becoming obsolete and discarded faster, leading to problems in ensuring the WEEE waste goes where it should.
Does WEEE Waste Reach The Right Place?
A European Union funded study has discovered that currently in Europe only 35% of electronic waste was disposed of properly during 2012. It found that the rest ended up in landfills and black market sales, causing potential economic, environmental and health related issues.
The correct methods and procedures for WEEE disposal are available; however research has showed that too many businesses and consumers are not using them enough. This suggests that awareness and education are the most effective ways to encourage more electronic waste to be recycled, rather than huge investments in infrastructure.
According to the EU report, “Countering Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Illegal Trade” (CWIT), only 3.3 million of 9.45 million tons of discarded WEEE waste ended up in official collection and recycling programs in 2012. This is the earliest year for which the data could be collected, with indicators showing that the figures had improved in the year since.
“There has been a lot of bits and pieces and to some extent a little bit of reporting in a few countries, but a comprehensive analysis like this...has never been done,” says Jaco Huisman, a scientific coordinator on the project. “The industry, academia and law enforcement have been sitting together for two years and carefully analyzing the entire problem from top to bottom.”
According to Pascal Leroy, secretary-general of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Forum, the biggest culprits for improper WEEE disposal are not major corporations or traditional criminal gangs, but often smaller companies or organisations who are either ignorant or unaware of their responsibilities.
“It’s basically a very distributed nature of small illegal activities with high frequency. So it’s very distributed individuals, small companies, small trading companies, doing illegal things.” She says.
Disorganisation from a local level right up to a national one is another issue which contributes to the wider problem. “This makes the problem much more difficult to tackle and it makes it much more difficult to implement the current regulations that are out there.” Says Leroy.
All waste can be dangerous if it has been disposed of correctly, but with electronics there is even more danger because hazardous toxins can be released into the atmosphere or get into water streams and cause a range of mental development issues, liver and kidney damage and cancer.
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