Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mining A Mountain of Electronic Waste: 1 Million Cell Phones Contain: 250 Kg Silver, 24 Kg Gold, 9 Kg Palladium, And 9 Tons Of Copper"

Mobile phones, computers, TVs - we like them but where do they go when we are finished with them? In the worst case they can be dismantled by hand for scrap by children in developing countries. This can expose them to potentially fatal chemicals. New legislation aims to toughen existing rules on collection and treatment so that within six years 85% of all waste will be recovered and treated. Environment Committee MEPs backed the proposals on 22 June.

This type of waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU (over 8 million tonnes and growing) and poses a series of challenges such as health problems if the waste is not properly treated and a loss of raw materials if there is no recycling.

Rapporteur Karl-Heinz Florenz of the centre right European People's Party told us, "we lose a lot of raw material because a lot of electronic waste is illegally shipped out of Europe. For example, 1 million mobiles contain: 250 kg silver, 24 kg gold, 9 kg palladium, and 9 tons of copper".

According to national reports, only 33% of the waste is currently collected and properly treated.

Setting ambitious and fair targets

The current collection target is 4 kg per year per person, but it doesn't reflect the different circumstances of each country. Some states already exceeded this amount, others fell short of it.

Mr. Florenz said, "we suggested collecting 85% of the waste that arises in the Member State. It is a challenging but realistic and important target."

This target is going to be effective in 2016. In the meanwhile, an interim target (4 kg or the amount collected in 2010, whichever is greater) will be set, to facilitate gradual improvement towards the final target.

"Another change will be the establishment of European-wide standards for collection, treatment and recycling of waste. The current situation shows a quite different quality of these operations in Europe," said Mr Florenz.

Illegal shipment

Karl-Heinz Florenz was clear about the present situation: "At the moment a very big amount of waste is illegally shipped out of Europe. Every Member State, specifically the customs officers have to prove that the exported product is not functioning and therefore not allowed to be shipped".

He added: "we will shift the burden of proof: now it is on the exporter. Furthermore, we established clear criteria to distinguish between waste and used but functioning products. This will help the custom services to control the exporters".

Consumer responsibility

Consumers can already turn their electronic waste in to dedicated facilities, but things will be easier now: "consumers will now be able to deposit very small appliances like mobile phones, shavers etc at any retail shop, without the requirement to buy a new product. These small products often end up in the waste bin, because consumers are not willing to go to a collection point just for an MP3 Player," Mr Florenz said.

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