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MEPs demand better e-waste management

Parliament wants tighter rules for the EU's growing output of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE), while cutting red tape for companies. In a plenary vote on Thursday, MEPs proposed new targets for collecting, recycling and re-using waste. They also recommended tougher measures to prevent the export of e-waste to developing countries, where it can pose a health and environment hazard.

Voting on a draft update to 2003 rules, Parliament adopted its recommended changes by 580 votes to 37 with 22 abstentions. Council will now consider EP's position ahead of a possible second reading. Karl-Heinz Florenz (EPP, DE), who steered the draft legislation through Parliament, commented that "we can no longer afford to waste our waste. Parliament has sent a strong message that public authorities, manufacturers and consumers all need to play their part to ensure we collect and recycle more of our electrical and electronic goods. We have also set out stricter rules to stop potentially harmful waste being illegally shipped to developing countries."

Collection targets

Parliament says that Member States should collect 85% of the e-waste they produce from 2016. It also proposes a 2012 target: Member States should collect 4 kg of e-waste per inhabitant (as under existing rules) or the weight of e-waste collected in 2010, whichever is greater.

Stop wasting the waste

As well as yielding health and environmental benefits, proper treatment of e-waste can help reclaim valuable raw materials. MEPs recommend a 50-75% recycling target (depending on category) and support a new 5% re-use goal.

Scope and solar panels

All types of e-waste should be covered, except for listed exceptions, such as large installations and tools, military equipment and vehicles. MEPs say rules should also be waived for photovoltaic cells used in solar panels, subject to review, since disposal is performed by professionals and industry-set targets are in place.

Producer and consumer responsibilities

MEPs underline that standardising registration and reporting is needed to lighten the administrative burden and costs on companies. They suggest reducing the number of electrical equipment categories to further simplify matters.

Producers of e-goods pay towards treatment and can also make a positive impact by respecting eco-design rules and creating products that are easier to repair or recycle.

Consumers should dispose of e-waste legally, as they are already entitled to do free of charge at treatment centres. MEPs add that consumers should also be able to return very small items to retailers. Very small shops should be exempt but distance sellers included.

Illegal exports

Large volumes of e-waste are being falsely declared as "reusable" and illegally exported for treatment in developing countries, where they are often processed in unsafe conditions, even by children. As well as supporting Commission proposals for stricter inspections of shipments, Parliament further clarifies that the exporter should carry the burden of proof that goods are reusable.

Christopher COAKLEY
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Paola BUONADONNA
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Eimear NÍ BHROIN
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