Brussels gets tough on the WEEE 8

The European Commission's patience is wearing thin over member states' failure to comply with laws designed to tackle electro-waste.

The commission has issued a final warning, calling on the eight lagging countries to get their houses in order over the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and related legislation, or face prosecution.

The Directives aim to ensure that e-waste, which often contains hazardous materials, is not simply thrown away, but is collected, recycled and reused, with the remaining waste being properly treated. The principle tool used to encourage this is making manufacturers of high-tech equipment responsible for their products once they eventually become waste (see related story). The Directives were meant to be implemented by all EU countries in August 2004.

But Britain, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Poland have yet to bring in the laws within their own borders.

Only Britain, France and Italy have failed to implement both the WEEE Directive and its sister directive, Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS)

The substances banned under RoHS include heavy metals and a number of hazardous industrial chemicals that can cause asthma and cancer, as well as damage the brain, liver, kidneys and the nervous and cardio-vascular systems.

Some exemptions apply where alternatives are not available, but the Directive will go a long way towards reducing their use.

The EC has now called time on the eight states' procrastination, and has warned that unless it sees prompt action it will launch legal proceedings, likely to lead to hefty fines.

In the EU, electro-scrap is the fastest growing waste stream, growing at 3-5% per year, three times faster than household rubbish and other wastes.

The average EU citizen produces 17-20kg of electrical waste every year, much of which contains potential pollutants.

The vast majority of the waste in Europe still goes to landfills or incineration, despite general acceptance of the need for action to reduce inefficient use of resources and the risk of contaminants leaking into the surrounding soil, water or air, posing a risk to human health as well as the wider environment.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: "Nobody wants to see old computers and television sets piling up at the roadside and polluting the environment.

"Therefore efficient collection and recycling or reuse is necessary.

"Member States have agreed on ambitious legislation to tackle the problems caused by rapidly growing amounts of E-waste.

"But they also have to do the follow-up work and implement what they have agreed."

By Sam Bond



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