Electronic waste directive should focus more on sustainability

There is a need for member states to set up re-use centres and focus on the social benefits of re-use and recycling, says Rreuse, the association for Reuse and Recycling European Union Social Enterprises, in a new position paper on the adoption of the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

The position paper puts forward amendments to the wording of the proposed directive (see related story) and makes substantive changes to its focus. The alterations reflect an emphasis on the three aspects of sustainability – environmental, social and economic, and pushes re-use to the top of the political agenda.

Evidence of Rreuse’s intent to push sustainability up the agenda can be seen in a number of amendments (see related story). These include changing an original Directive statement “re-use and material recovery should be considered preferable where and insofar as they are the best environmental options” by the proposed addition of a new sentence: “Consideration should also be given to the economic and social benefits of re-use and to the economic benefits of material recovery.”

The social element of sustainability is emphasised in additional changes, for example in a new paragraph: “In accordance with the European Employment Strategy Guidelines consideration should be given to the promotion of measures to exploit fully the possibilities of job creation at local level and in the social economy. Consideration should be given to the role of the social economy sector and the opportunities for social employment in collection, separation, re-use, recycling and treatment of WEEE.” Rreuse says this “emphasises the existing role of the social economy in working with WEEE”.

The position paper also urges that re-use should be favoured wherever possible, stressing social benefits such as the provision of access to electrical equipment to people on low incomes, and ensuring the “creation of far more job opportunities than other waste management options”.

The paper also proposes an additional paragraph be added stating that to ensure a high level of re-use, member states should take measures to establish an “integrated and adequate” network of re-use installations. The network will have to ensure that waste electronic and electrical equipment suitable for re-use can be separated from unsuitable items in one of the nearest appropriate installations, prior to treatment. This text was originally proposed by the European Parliament to ensure that activities are carried out in a logical order, from collection through separation to treatment.

The text also fits with the EU’s agreed “proximity principle”, ensuring that waste equipment suitable for re-use is available close to its point of origin. This move is intended to reduce transport costs and damage to the environment, and reduce the chances of damage during transport that might prevent re-use. Rreuse notes: “[We have] consistently warned of the danger of ‘export for re-use’ becoming a loophole in the Directive allowing the specified treatment and recovery to be circumvented. Rreuse has consistently warned that potentially reusable appliances/components may be so damaged during collection and transport that they are rendered unsuitable for re-use.”

There is concern that there is no specification in the directive for the measurement of collection and re-use. Rreuse proposes that member states report annually on waste equipment collected, reused, handed over to treatment facilities, recycled and recovered, by weight, and if this is not possible by numbers – the Directive takes a different emphasis with the phrase “both by numbers and weight”.

Rreuse also proposes that the minimum rate of separate collection of such waste equipment that states should be trying to achieve be increased from the EC’s suggested 4kg per inhabitant of private households per year, to 6kg within three years of the Directive coming into force.

The position paper supports the EC’s proposal to set annual targets for recovery and re-use/recycling within five years of the Directive coming into force. Rreuse also urges that the term ‘re-use’ be inserted into the proposal that member states should encourage consumers to facilitate and thus participate in the process of collection, treatment and recovery of WEEE. Rreuse commented: “Consumers not only need to know of how they can recycle the equipment, but must be given the opportunity to participate in the preferred option of re-use.”

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