E-waste in the EU: What are the big contributors?

14 Jan 2021

Image: © Iren Moroz/Stock.adobe.com

According to the European Parliament, e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU and less than 40pc is recycled.

Electronic devices are a major part of modern life, but figures recently published by the European Parliament are a reminder that the waste produced by our devices is a growing concern. Officials have been warning about this increasing problem for years and, according to European Parliament, e-waste is now the fastest growing waste stream in the EU.

Washing machines, electric stoves and other large household appliances make up more than half of all collected e-waste in the EU, followed by IT equipment such as laptops and printers, consumer products like video cameras and small household appliances such as vacuum cleaners and toasters.

The remaining items, which include medical devices and electrical tools, make up the lowest percentage of collected e-waste in the EU.

Recycling and reduction

When we think of recycling, plastic and paper are often the first materials that come to mind. But while electronics should also be recycled, less than 40pc of e-waste in the EU receives that treatment.

Discarded electronic and electrical equipment can contain potentially harmful materials that pollute the environment and increase the risks for people involved in recycling e-waste.

The European Commission has taken a number of steps to tackle this issue. Its Circular Economy Action Plan published in March 2020 labelled reducing e-waste as a priority for EU countries. Last December, it rolled out its first initiative under the plan, implementing legislation on sustainable batteries.

The EU also called for a universal phone charger to cut down on waste and a rewards system for e-waste recycling.

The European Parliament is set to vote on an own-initiative report on the Circular Economy Action Plan next month. It outlines objectives for key product value chains across e-waste, batteries, vehicles, packaging and construction, among others.

The lead MEP for the issue, Jan Huitema, said: “In 2017, the world generated 44.7m metric tonnes of e-waste and only 20pc was recycled properly.

“Circularity principles need to be implemented throughout all stages of a value chain to make the circular economy a success.”

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Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021