European Commission acts against UK waste

2 min read

The European Commission has asked the UK to transpose into national law three EU Directives that tackle the environmental problems caused by electronic and electrical waste.

The European Commission has formally asked eight Member States (Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Poland and the UK) to transpose into their national laws three EU Directives tackling the environmental problems caused by electronic and electrical waste.

If a Member State fails to comply with this request, the Commission could take it to the European Court of Justice.

The Directives in question aim to ensure that e-waste, which often contains hazardous materials, is not simply thrown away, but is collected, recycled and reused, with the remaining waste being properly treated. The actions are part of a series of environment-related infringement decisions against several Member States which the Commission is currently announcing.

“Member States have agreed on ambitious legislation to tackle the problems caused by rapidly growing amounts of e-waste. But they also have to do the follow-up work and implement what they have agreed," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

In 2002, the Council and European Parliament adopted the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE Directive). This Directive requires Member States to ensure the establishment of systems for the collection of e-waste by August 2005. Furthermore, they have to ensure its reuse, recovery and recycling, and the sound disposal of the remaining waste. When the collection systems are in place, consumers will be able to take these products back to shops and collection points for free.

The Directive also sets collection, re-use and recycling targets and outlines the financial obligations of producers. A 2003 amendment to the WEEE Directive further clarifies those obligations with regard to the financing of professional (i.e. non-household) equipment.

Together with the WEEE Directive, the Council and European Parliament adopted the Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS). This Directive bans certain hazardous substances from electronic equipment from 1 July 2006 onward to facilitate recycling, and to reduce emissions when the remaining e-waste is landfilled or incinerated.

The banned substances include heavy metals and a number of hazardous industrial chemicals. They can cause asthma and cancer, and damage the brain, liver, kidneys and the nervous and cardio-vascular systems.

In the EU, electronic scrap is growing at 3-5% per year, which is three times faster than average waste. Each EU citizen currently produces around 17-20 kg of e-waste per year. Some 90% of this waste is still landfilled, incinerated, or recovered without any pre-treatment, allowing the substances it contains to make their way into soil, water and air where they pose a risk to human health.

The transposition of all three Directives was due before 13 August 2004. France, Italy and the United Kingdom have failed to transpose all three Directives. Finland has not yet transposed the three Directives in the province of Aland. Greece has transposed the earlier WEEE and RoHS Directives, but not the amendment to the WEEE Directive. Estonia, Malta and Poland have transposed the RoHS Directive but not yet the WEEE Directive and its amendment.

The Commission has therefore sent final written warnings – the last step before referral to the European Court of Justice - to the eight Member States.