European demand for zero electrical and electronic waste
. Can you believe that only 19% of all electrical and electronic waste generated in Europe is recycled? Yes, in an era when materials are increasingly scarce and prices continue to rise, when the EU is almost entirely dependent on the supply of foreign metals and rare earths, we still have the ability to prevent 81% of these resources from being reintroduced into the process of producing Europe.
Today, more than 50% of WEEE produced in Europe follows unofficial collection routes, sometimes leading to illegal exports and improper handling. E-waste contains harmful substances, such as heavy metals and chemicals, which can harm human health and the environment, especially if it is not handled properly. Unfortunately, this exported e-waste has caused numerous well-documented examples of environmental and health damage in Africa and Asia.
Moreover, if we let 81% of WEEE escape from Europe, it means we let a lot of manufacturing and jobs escape from Europe. It's like owning a gold mine and letting other people come and take the gold—despite a high price in terms of health and environmental damage—while complaining that the economic crisis is taking away jobs. Action is needed to reverse these numbers.
Action must be directed towards the development of WEEE recycling standards while also encouraging their redesign. An important reason why electronic waste is not recycled is precisely because electrical and electronic products are not carefully designed. If the design is different, it will be easier and cheaper to manipulate WEEE to extract raw materials.
This is why the European Union is working hard to update the WEEE directive. On February 3, the Environmental Committee of the European Parliament voted in favor of ambitious collection targets based on WEEE, formulating e-waste management standards and providing financial incentives for optimal design. The European Parliament requires member states to address financial resources to increase collections and requires better consideration of nanomaterials in the processing process.
The problem is that in the current economic crisis, most EU member states only consider spending cuts, sometimes failing to see the hidden benefits of economic boosters, that is, investment to capture more WEEE. The economic booster works in many ways: it creates local jobs in collection and reprocessing, saves the cost of purchasing new raw materials, and saves the extraction, processing, and transportation emissions associated with new production.
Sending zero electrical and electronic waste to landfills and incineration makes sense, but turning this waste into resources is an integral part of the new industrial revolution. Maximizing material productivity is the way forward, and zero waste is an important part of it.
"If we let 81% of WEEE escape from Europe, it means we will lose a lot of manufacturing and jobs."
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