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Brussels, 13 August 2004

Electronic waste: two important Directives due to be implemented in EU Member States

By today all EU Member States should have transposed into their national legislation two EU Directives that tackle environmental problems caused by the growing amount of electric and electronic waste. The two Directives seek to ensure that old electric and electronic products are not simply thrown away, but are recycled and reused. Currently, most devices end up in municipal waste and are then landfilled or incinerated. Due to their hazardous contents, their landfilling and incineration sets free pollutants that contaminate air, water and soil and can have adverse health effects. The transposition is an important first step in reducing the environmental impacts of products such as TVs and washing machines, mobile phones and air conditioning units. However, so far only Greece has passed national legislation giving effect to the two Directives.

Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: “We are buying and then throwing away more and more electric and electronic products. They pose real problems in the municipal waste stream because they are often made up of hazardous materials. The two new directives will put an end to this – but only once they are transposed into national law. I am disappointed that 24 Member States have missed today’s deadline and urge them to speed up the legislative process. We need to act quickly to stop the damage that electric waste is creating."

Objectives of the Directives

Electric and electronic waste has been growing three times faster than other municipal waste. On average, each European citizen now produces some 14 kg of this waste per year. At the same time, electric and electronic products are often made up of hazardous materials such as heavy metals, and a large proportion of the various pollutants found in municipal waste comes from them. The two Directives require producers to design and produce electric and electronic products in a way that facilitates their dismantling, reuse and recycling and to cover all related cost, including collection costs.

The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE Directive)[1] requires EU15 Member States to set up collection systems for electronic equipment by August 2005 (August 2007 for the new Member States). When these systems are in place, consumers will be able to take these products back to shops and collection points free of charge. Member States will also have to collect at least 4 kg of this waste from households per inhabitant and year. There are also reuse and recycling targets for different products.

The Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS)[2] bans certain hazardous substances such as lead and cadmium from electronic equipment from 1 July 2006 onward. Lead has been proven to have effects on cognitive systems, particularly in children. Cadmium affects the functioning of kidneys.

Progress in transposition

Only Greece has met the deadline for transposing the Directives into their national legislation. Most other Member States are currently adopting legislation. Once the Member States have sent their legislation to the Commission, it will check it for compliance and, if necessary, take further action. The Commission can open infringement procedures against Member States that do not meet transposition deadlines.

[1] Directive 2002/96/EC as amended by Directive 2003/108/EC

[2] Directive 2002/95/EC

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