E-waste and its consequences for the environment

Doc. 10347
19 October 2004

Motion for a recommendation
presented by Mr Högmark and others

This motion has not been discussed in the Assembly and commits only the members who have signed it

           E-waste is the popular name given to electronic products nearing or at the end of their useful life: computers, televisions, video recorders, stereos, copiers, fax machines, mobile phones. Although many of these electronic products can be reused, refurbished or recycled, electronic discards is a rapidly growing segment of the waste stream in Europe.

          Estimate worldwide sales of mobile phones in 2004 will be around 620-650 million units; estimates for computer sales in Europe for 2004 around 45 millions units. Many of these new units will replace old ones, a process that generates huge electronic discards.

          These electronic discards might have long-lasting effects on the environment. When improperly disposed (incinerated or landfilled instead of recycled), toxic substances like lead, cadmium or mercury (that are commonly used in mass electronic products) can contaminate the soil, water and air.

          The European Union has produced two directives relating to this topic: on Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and on the Restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) in waste electrical and electronic equipment. They were agreed upon on 13 February 2003.

          The Waste electrical and electronic equipment directive (WEEE) aims to minimise the impact of electrical and electronic equipment on the environment during their life time and when they become waste.  It applies to a huge spectrum of products.  It encourages and sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment. It makes producers responsible for financing most of these activities (producer responsibility). Private householders, whose role is most important as far as e-waste is concerned, will be able to return e-waste without any charge.

          The RoHS directive will ban marketing in the EU any new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury etc. from 1 July 2006. Manufacturers will need to ensure that their products - and their components - comply with the provisions of the directive.  If the products do not comply, they will have to be redesigned in order to continue to be sold on the European market.

          Five years after the new rules are adopted, producers will be responsible for new "take back" standards for electrical and electronic equipment. For the first time, producers of electronic and electrical products will be legally responsible for reuse and/or recycling of their products at the end of their life. The directive will apply to all producers of electronic and electrical products who do business in the EU, so it will in effect set a new global standard.

          These new directives should reduce environmental and resource impacts. Companies that learn how to produce products that are less hazardous and that are easier and less costly to recycle would develop a competitive advantage, since their recycling costs would be lower.

          Unfortunately, consumers, who are already asked – and given the possibility – not to dispose of e-waste with the rest of household garbage, but introduce it into the special treatment or recycling circuits, rarely respect this demand. Better information of the general public, as far as e-waste is concerned, is also needed.

          Keen to ensure that an efficient legislative framework on e-waste be extended to all the Council of Europe member states, the Assembly considers that a study of the situation of e-waste at pan-European level should be made and proposals put forward in order to better protect the environment of the whole of Europe from the consequences of improper methods of dealing with electronic discards.

Signed [1]:
HÖGMARK, Anders G., Sweden, EPP/CD
DORIC, Miljenko, Croatia, LDR
ETHERINGTON, Bill, United Kingdom, SOC
GUBERT, Renzo, Italy, EPP/CD
LENGAGNE, Guy, France, SOC
MEALE, Alan, United Kingdom, SOC
NESSA, Pasquale, Italy, EPP/CD
OHLSSON, Carina, Sweden, SOC
PLATVOET, Leo, Netherlands, UEL
SCHMIED, Walter, Switzerland, LDR



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