Most of Europe's old tech not recycled

Report reveals Europe is "going wrong" on recycling old tech products and appliances

Europeans are chucking 750,000 tons of old tech gadgets and appliances in the bin when it could be recycled. 

That's according to a report by Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT), which revealed only a third of European ewaste was recycled via the proper channels, with the rest exported overseas or merely thrown away. 

Of the 65 per cent that's not properly recycled - some 6.5 million tons annually - 1.5 million tons are exported, 3.15 million tons are recycled in "non-compliant conditions", 750,000 tons are scavanged for valuable parts, and the rest are binned.  

Most of the exported hardware is undocumented, suggesting it's likely illegal exports, the report noted. Much of the tech isn't recycled, but most of it is repaired and reused, as 70 per cent of it is still functioning, so the majority of it isn't - at least yet - being illegally dumped. 

It's not only overseas countries scavanging old tech for useful parts or reusing repaired equipment, with millions of tons "wrongfully mismanaged or illegally traded within Europe itself," the report noted. 

"The widespread scavenging of both products and components and the theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals from ewaste, means that there is a serious economic loss of materials and resources directed to compliant ewaste processors in Europe," the report added. 

EU law requires member countries to track the electronics they recycle and export, but the high value of components and the high cost of recycling hazardous materials means black markets have popped around disposing of old equipment. 

"We don't need to look at what happens in Ghana, Nigeria and China. A lot is going wrong in Europe. The mismanaged e-waste within Europe is ten times the amount exported to places like Ghana," Pascal Leroy, secretary general of the NGO WEEE Forum, told Euractive

One cause is the high cost of disposing of dangerous materials such as toxins like mercury and cadmium, he said, adding that European consumers were adding to the problem by tossing smaller handheld devices into the bin. 

CWIT called for better awareness of the issue, an EU ban on cash transactions in scrap trade, and more effort in reporting, investigation and law enforcement on ewaste. 

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