UNU study documents Dutch e-waste flows

  • 2012•04•23     Bonn

    Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE, or e-waste) traditionally has been difficult to monitor, due to the heterogeneous nature and the many actors involved compared with other waste streams. It is difficult to determine how much electrical and electronic equipment is put on the market; how much is handled as WEEE; how much is collected and recycled on the national, provincial or local levels; and what other complementary streams exist (such as small door-to-door trade and second-hand shops, WEEE in residual waste from households or businesses, and illegal exports).

    At the Wecycle international congress on electronic waste, held in the Netherlands in March, the United Nations University launched a new report on the challenges that European governments must overcome to meet the European Union target of collecting nearly two-thirds of all discarded electrical equipment within a decade. Specifically, the EU target is that by 2021, member states will collect 65 percent of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment and energy-saving bulbs sold annually in the previous three-year period.

    The findings of the UNU report, “The Dutch WEEE Flows”, were presented in the session “Future Flows – where do WEEE go from here?” The report suggests that for the EU′s ambitious goal to be met, governments will have to take steps to make electrical recycling easier for consumers.

    The project, funded by Wecycle and ICT Milieu, was based on an extended “all-actors-involved” cooperation. Using modelling based on consumption and e-waste in the Netherlands, it was found that in 2010, the nation reached an e-waste recycling level of just 28 percent, thus underscoring the need for swift intervention.

    Before the start of this project, some two-thirds of Dutch WEEE flows were unaccounted for. As a result of the study, 80% of Dutch WEEE flows have been documented and validated, and a fair understanding of the remaining 20%  has been derived.

    The research included high-quality information sets regarding:

    • electrical and electronic equipment historically placed on the market from the Wecycle, ICT Milieu and Statistics Netherlands compliance schemes;
    • WEEE residence times and stocks in households and businesses from possession studies;
    • a high number of sorting analyses of WEEE in residual waste; and
    • extensive field work at regional and national recyclers as well as at municipal collection points.

    Among the findings regarding electrical and electronic equipment and WEEE flows in the Netherlands are that:

    • some 26.5 kg/inhabitant of electrical and electronic equipment was put on market in 2010 (4.5 kg/inhabitant more than found in previous national data);
    • the amount of WEEE generated is 23.7 kg/inhabitant, of which 2.7 kg/inhabitant is exported and cannot be collected in the Netherlands;
    • the ratio of WEEE put on market will stay above the long-term trend of around 70–80 percent, due to lighter consumer electronics and information technology products, decreasing residence times and many more small appliances sold;
    • the compliance schemes flow to recycling is 7.5 kg/inhabitant, while the total complementary recycling flow is 6.6 kg/inhabitant;
    • in total, 2.3 kg/inhabitant (mainly small appliances and consumer lamp fittings) ends up in residual waste, while around 4.6 kg/inhabitant remains undocumented.

    Many important lessons can be drawn from this study with regard to practical implementation of the EU′s 65 percent collection target (and the alternative 85 percent of WEEE generated target in the new WEEE Directive) as well as, more importantly, how these collection amounts can be improved.

    The thorough Dutch approach is an important step in the long-term strategy of the Solving the E-waste Problem Initiative’s (StEP) project on Annual Dynamic Digital Reporting on the global Ewaste StatuS (ADDRESS), which aims at quantifying e-waste volumes worldwide. Determining national e-waste volumes will allow other countries and regions to take advantage of the lessons learned and to make prudent use of the tools and methodology developed.

    For more information, including a link to the full UNU report, see “E-waste flows: We buy more, lighter and short-lived products” on the UNU Vice Rectorate in Europe website.