23 November 2020 by James Langley

WEEE Forum calls for ‘bigger role’ for recycling

There should be a “bigger role” for recycling in the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) sector as the source of critical raw materials, the WEEE Forum’s director general has said.

Pascal Leroy said the European Union was “very much” dependent on ‘third countries’ for its access to critical raw materials and advanced materials. A third country is one which is neither a member of the EU nor a country or territory whose citizens enjoy the EU right to free movement.

Valuable materials such as silver, gold and platinum are present in many common electrical items

He said: “We depend on third countries for our critical raw materials, particularly for raw earth elements which we use in our high-tech products and for which we are dependent on China. There is also very much a dependence on countries like the Congo or South Africa.

“The coronavirus pandemic forces us to question the electronics value chain. It forces us to reassess our dependence on these markets and it forces us to find new solutions.

“If we fail to recover more materials, we will become too reliant on third countries. We see recycling as a major source of access to critical raw materials.”

Mr Leroy was speaking at the E-Waste World Virtual Summit on 18 November. The WEEE Forum is a not-for-profit international association representing 40 WEEE producer responsibility organisations across the globe.

Critical raw materials

Pascal Leroy, the WEEE Forum’s director general (picture: WEEE Forum)

The European Commission has created a list of 30 critical raw materials for the EU which is subject to regular reviews and updates. The list combines raw materials of high importance to the EU economy and of high risk associated with their supply.

Mr Leroy said more than two thirds of the 30 designated critical raw materials were found in WEEE.

Collection targets

Alongside an increased focus on recycling, Mr Leroy said one of the issues of greatest concern to the WEEE sector was trying to bridge the gap to the EU’s collection targets. The EU imposed a collection target of 65% of equipment sold or 85% of WEEE generated for 2019.

“If we fail to recover more materials, we will become too reliant on third countries”

Pascal Leroy, WEEE Forum

“The collection of WEEE has gone up from 7.3kg per inhabitant in 2010 to 9.5kg per inhabitant in 2018,” Mr Leroy said. “Yet, despite that progress and despite 20 years of effort by everyone involved in WEEE collection, most member states do not attain the 2019 65% collection target.”

Mr Leroy said the WEEE Forum had commissioned a study in the EU to understand why the targets were not being met.

Standards

The final issue of greatest concern to the WEEE sector was seeing EN 50625 standards made legally binding, Mr Leroy said. EN 50625 standards are European standards covering collection, logistics and treatment requirements for WEEE.

Mr Leroy said: “The standards have contributed to a more level playing field and also to quality in the markets. The vast majority of stakeholders support the idea of an implementing act making the normative requirements of EN 50625 legally binding. We call on the Commission and the member states to act accordingly.”

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