Questions & Answers on EU Policies on Electric and Electronic Waste


What is the problem with electrical and electronic waste?
Electrical and electronic waste is waste from a huge spectrum of products. They include small and large household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment, lighting equipment, and consumer goods - such as radios, TV sets, video cameras and hi-fi systems. This equipment is made up of many different materials and components, some of which are hazardous. This is why electrical and electronic waste can cause major environmental problems during the waste management phase - in particular landfilling and incineration if it is not properly treated.

In fact, each electrical and electronic piece of equipment consists of a combination of several basic building blocks, such as circuit boards/assemblies, cables, cords and wires, plastics containing flame retardants, mercury switches, display equipment such as cathode ray tubes and crystal liquid displays, accumulators and batteries, light generating devices, capacitors, etc.

Environmentally problematic substances in these components include certain heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium and chromium) and halogenated substances (CFCs, PCBs, PVCs and brominated flame retardants). Many of these substances can be toxic and may pose risks to human health when released. For instance, lead can damage the nervous system and can adversely affect the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. Cadmium also affects the functioning of kidneys and can cause brain damage.

Up to now more than 90% of electrical and electronic waste has been landfilled, incinerated or recovered without any pre-treatment - which means that the pollutants could be released into the environment and contaminate air, water and soil.

Key data on electrical and electronic waste (WEEE) from 1998, showed a generation of 14 kg per inhabitant per year - in total, around 6 million tonnes per year (4% of the municipal waste stream). WEEE was estimated to be growing at 3-5% per year, which makes it the fastest growing waste stream - growing three times faster than the average waste stream. Today, citizens are likely to generate between 17 and 20 kg per head per year.

What is the EU doing about electrical and electronic waste?
The EU has adopted two Directives that tackle the problems posed by electrical and electronic waste. The Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE Directive)[1] aims to prevent the generation of electrical and electronic waste and to promote reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery in order to reduce the quantity of such waste to be eliminated through landfilling or incineration. It therefore requires the collection of WEEE, recovery and reuse/recycling. Where appropriate, priority should be given to reuse of the whole appliance.

The Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS Directive)[2] seeks to substitute lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) in electrical and electronic equipment - where alternatives are available - in order to facilitate sound recovery and prevent problems during the waste management phase. (There is other EU legislation dealing with CFCs, PCBs and PVCs.)

What are the key provisions and deadlines under the WEEE Directive?

The Directives became binding for Member States on 13 August 2003

2005: Member States have to establish and maintain registers of producers and, every two years, provide the Commission with information on the quantities of products put on the market, collected, recovered, reused and recycled. Every three years, Member States will have to send a report on the implementation of the Directive.

13 August 2005: By this date, Member States shall ensure that collection systems are set up and producers of electrical and electronic equipment shall provide for the financing of the collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal. Collection means that consumers will be able to hand in their old electrical and electronic equipment on a 1 to 1 basis when they purchase a new product. In addition, there will be other collection points where anybody in possession of WEEE - and distributors - will be able to return it free of charge. The establishment of such collection points must take into account accessibility and population density.

All products put on the market after 13 August 2005 will have to be marked with a crossed-

The financing systems will ensure the financing of collection, treatment, recovery and elimination of WEEE. When producers put a new product on the market after 13 August 2005, they will have to provide a financial guarantee (e.g. an insurance, money in a blocked account, or participation in a collective scheme), which will cover these costs. This should prevent that nobody takes care of "orphan products" - that is old electrical and electronic products whose producers no longer exist.

With regard to dealing with "historical WEEE" - i.e. products put on the market before 13 August 2005, producers will have to join a collective system. Collective financing can take the form of a flat-rate levy or a fee on new equipment.

31 December 2006: By this date, Member States shall ensure a rate of separate collection of 4 kg per inhabitant per year. Producers shall meet various recovery and recycling/reuse targets for WEEE sent for treatment - calculated based on the average weight of the appliances in question. Priority is to be given to repairing the equipment so that it can be reused. Where this is not possible, the WEEE Directive sets targets for the reuse of components and for the recycling and recovery of the materials it contains.

For example, the recovery rate in the case of large domestic appliances, such as refrigerators and microwaves, is a minimum of 80% and the rate of reusing/recycling their components, materials and substances, is 75%.

The recovery rate for small domestic appliances, lighting equipment, electrical and electronic tools, toys, leisure and sports equipment and monitoring and control instruments is 70%.

The reuse/recycling rate of their components, materials and substances is 50%.

Different recovery and reuse/recycling targets are fixed per category.

New Member States: The ten Member States that joined the EU on 1 May 2004, have been granted a 24-month deadline extension (Slovenia: 12 months) for the collection target of 4 kg/inhabitant per year - as well as for the recovery and reuse/recycling targets.

What are the key provisions and deadlines under the RoHS Directive?
1 July 2006: By this date, producers will no longer be allowed to put on the market electrical and electronic equipment that contains the hazardous substances lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).

The Annex to the Directive contains a list of exemptions from the substance ban for which alternatives are not available. The Directive also allows for amendments to the Annex to adapt the list of exemptions to scientific and technical progress - if the elimination of the hazardous substances is technically or scientifically impracticable or if the negative environmental, health and consumer safety impacts caused by the substitution outweigh the environmental, health or consumers safety benefits.

What are the roles of the different actors - Member States, consumers, European Commission?
Member States: The role of the Member States is to transpose the provisions of the WEEE and RoHS Directives into national legislation. Furthermore, they must ensure that producers meet all their obligations.

Consumers: Consumers should no longer simply throw away old electrical and electronic equipment. From 13 August 2005, they should be able to return it on a 1 to 1 basis to shops, when purchasing a new product - as well as to other collection points, both free of charge. From the same date on, new electrical and electronic products must carry a sign showing a crossed-out rubbish bin to inform consumers that they cannot be disposed of as unsorted waste. By separately collecting WEEE and bringing it to collection points, citizens will contribute to sound reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery.

Commission: The Commission is supporting the implementation of the two Directives. It is providing guidance to the Member States on interpretation issues related to the Directives. For this purpose, a guidance document in the form of "Frequently Asked Questions" has been produced. It is published on the website of DG Environment :

In 2003, the Commission adopted an amendment to the WEEE Directive, clarifying financing obligations for WEEE from users other than private households.[3] In 2004, it adopted a Decision on the reporting questionnaire that Member States must answer to inform the Commission of progress in implementing the WEEE Directive.[4] In 2005, it adopted a Decision on dataformats.

Currently, the Commission is in the process of adopting additional Decisions to amend the RoHS Directive, by allowing for further exemptions to the substance ban and by setting maximum concentration values for the hazardous substances dealt with under the RoHS Directive.

How much will implementation of the two Directives cost and will it harm the industry's competitiveness? Will prices of electric and electronic equipment rise as a result?
The provisions of the two Directives apply without discrimination to EU and non-EU producers. Similarly, the costs of substitutes for hazardous substances dealt with by the RoHS Directive will be borne by EU and non-EU producers alike. Competition is thus not harmed.

The overall cost for compliance with the WEEE Directive is estimated at 500-900 million per year on an EU-wide basis.Of those cost, 300-600 million will be spent on collection and 200-300 million on recovery, reuse and recycling.

The resulting price increase is estimated to range from 1% - for most of the electrical and electronic equipment - to 2-3% for refrigerators, TV sets and monitors. The costs and price increases seem justified, given the benefits that the two Directives will bring.

Their primary objective is to protect human health and the environment. However, recycling of WEEE will also result in energy savings, roughly the equivalent of 2.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent per year.

As a consequence, the negative environmental impacts associated with resource use will decline.

Furthermore, the two Directives will result in saved production costs for virgin materials and saved disposal costs.

Where are we with the transposition of the two Directives in the Member States?
The WEEE and RoHS Directives entered into force on 13 February 2003 and the deadline for Member States to transpose the Directives into national legislation was 13 August 2004.

So far, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia have communicated to the Commission, the measures they have taken to transpose the WEEE Directive.

With regard to the RoHS Directive, Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Spain, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Slovakia and Slovenia have done so.

The Commission is currently assessing whether the notified measures are correctly transposing the obligations of the Directive. It is at the discretion of the Commission to initiate infringement procedures against those member States that have not yet transposed the Directives - as well as those that have incorrectly transposed the Directives.

Further Information on WEEE and RoHS can be found at:

[1] Directive 2002/96/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on waste electrical and electronic equipment [Official Journal L 37 of 13.2.2003], as amended by Directive 2003/108/EC [Official Journal L 345 of 31.12.2003].

[2] Directive 2002/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 January 2003 on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment [Official Journal L 37 of 13.2.2003].

[3] This amendment, Directive 2003/108/EC [Official Journal L 345 of 31.12.2003] relates to the financing of WEEE from users, other than private households. For WEEE put on the market after 2005, producers have to cover the costs arising from its management. For historical waste, producers will finance the costs if they have replaced the product with an equivalent product - or one that is fulfilling the same function. However, the arrangements also include the option of user financial responsibility. For other historical waste, the financing is covered by the users.

[4] Decision 2004/249/EC



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