by IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub ,

A review by the European Court of Auditors has found that EU member States collect and recover more discarded electrical and electronic equipment than most of the world. The review addresses actions and challenges related to: implementation of existing e-waste treatment requirements; mismanagement of e-waste; illegal shipments and other criminal activities; and increasing e-waste collection, recycling, and reuse. 

E-waste refers to discarded electrical and electronic tools, household appliances, and large equipment such as photovoltaic panels, among other items. If not treated properly when discarded, it is detrimental to the environment. E-waste often contains metals and plastics that can serve as raw materials for new products, making it suitable for recycling.

According to the review published on 20 May 2021, overall the EU currently recycles about 80% of the e-waste it collects. However, e-waste collection, recycling, and reuse are not equally effective in all EU member States.

Having met previous targets for e-waste collection and recovery, the EU has set more ambitious ones, although data on the new targets is not yet available. The review commends efforts such as incorporating circular-economy requirements into legislative proposals, incentivizing the reduction of material usage, and promoting product reparability and durability. However, requirements have not been updated to cover certain electrical and electronic equipment, like mobile phones and computers.

The review notes the challenge of breaches and criminal activities, such as illegal shipments of e-waste to countries outside the EU, and that some countries lack the resources to properly check operators and waste shipments. The authors explain that there are economic incentives for illegal or unsound waste management, and a low risk of getting caught.
The European Commission will have the opportunity to consider the review as part of its Circular Electronics Initiative during the last quarter of 2021. [European Court of Auditors press release] [Publication: EU actions and existing challenges on electronic waste]