CWIT: Only one third of European WEEE is officially collected and recycled

Source: Countering WEEE Illegal Trade Project

Toronto, Canada – Mismanagement of discarded electronics within Europe involves a volume ten times that of e-waste shipped to foreign shores in undocumented exports, according to a comprehensive two-year investigation into the functioning of the used and waste electronics market. The European Union-funded project, Countering WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) Illegal Trade (CWIT), was undertaken by INTERPOL, United Nations University (UNU), the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, the WEEE Forum, the Cross Border Research Association, Zanasi & Partners and Compliance and Risks.

Main findings:

* In Europe just 35 percent (3.3 million tonnes of 9.5 million tonnes) of discarded electronics and electrical equipment in 2012 wound up in official collection and recycling systems. The rest – 6.2 million tonnes in all – was either exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions or simply thrown in waste bins.

* 1.3 million tonnes of discarded electronics departed the EU in undocumented mixed exports, of which an estimated 30 percent (about 400,000 tonnes) was electronic waste; the rest was functioning equipment. More than 10 times the 400,000 tonnes of e-waste exported – some 4.7 million tonnes – was wrongfully mismanaged or illegally traded within Europe itself.

* Widespread theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals from waste electronics results in a loss of materials and resources for compliant waste processors in Europe valued at €800 million to €1.7 billion (US $877 million to $1.86 billion).

* Avoided costs of compliance with EU regulations, is estimated at €150 million to €600 million (US $165 million to $658 million) annually.

* On average each year only 2,000 tonnes (0.5 percent) of EU e-waste exports are reported as having been stopped in operations leading to some form of sentencing, administrative fines or civil penalties.

* Organized crime is involved in illegal waste supply chains in some countries, but suspicions of its heavy involvement are not corroborated by current information.

* In addition to mismanagement, the project revealed cases of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, demonstrating the availability of financial crime charges in dealing with offences.

A UNU study last year said toxic materials in the world’s 41.8 million tonnes of discarded electronics include lead in glass (an estimated 2.2 million tonnes), batteries (300,000 tonnes), mercury, cadmium, chromium and ozone-depleting substances (CFCs, 4,400 tonnes). Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer and damage to livers and kidneys.

Source: Terry Collins & Assoc.