Learning from the EU experience
Source: Toxics Link, Date: February , 2011
E-waste and its management has been a huge challenge for
developed and developing nations for more than a decade. Presence of toxic
materials, including heavy metals and chemicals like Brominated Flame
retardants, lead, Chromium etc, along with growing volumes of waste has put
pressure on governments across countries to look for solutions. Though there
have been some voluntary initiatives, most countries have tried to evolve a
system through a legal mandate.
European Union has been one of first to take initiatives to deal with
management of E-waste through a regulatory framework. WEEE directive of the EU,
which came into force in year 2003, is based on the principle of Extended
Producer Responsibility and is implemented in all its 27 member states. The
directive focuses on separate collection, treatment and recovery of discarded
equipments (E waste) and spells out responsibility for financing waste
management and reporting on results. (For details refer to http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:32002L0096:EN:HTML)
In the seven years of its promulgation, WEEE directive has seen various systems
or models evolve in member countries. The basic common thread is that producers
are given physical and financial responsibility of managing E-waste, while
other mechanisms may differ. The system has had varied success in member
countries of the Union.
Despite the directive on collection and recycling, only one third of electrical
and electronic waste in the European Union is reported as separately collected
and appropriately treated. A part of the other two thirds is potentially still
going to landfills and to sub-standard treatment sites in or outside the
European Union. Illegal trade of e-waste to non-EU countries continues to be
identified at EU borders and countries like China and India are at the
receiving end of large amount of this hazardous waste.
In December 2008, the European Commission proposed to revise the WEEE
directives based on the successes and drawbacks of the current system. The aim
is to increase the amount of e-waste that is appropriately treated and to
reduce the volume that goes to disposal.
India is currently on a threshold of issuing a
legal framework for managing E-waste. In keeping with different situation in
India from developed nations, especially EU, the solution to the problem needs
to be unique, for which there is a lot to learn from the WEEE directive and its
implementation in EU member states.
The WEEE directive experience has enunciated the need for setting up extensive
collection system to make it convenient for consumers, especially households or
individuals, to dispose off their e-waste.
E-waste management is complex because of different features of different kinds
of equipments and due to the large number of producers. The European Union
mechanism of setting up compliance system, whereby the producers have to ensure
and report fulfilling their responsibility by joining the system, is quite
unique and provides a great opportunity to learn. This will be very useful in the
Indian context, as implementation and compliance to Rules has been a weakness
in environmental laws.
Reporting and monitoring
Transparency and clarity on reporting and monitoring are key to measure
effectiveness of a system. Though the WEEE directive has not been completely
successful in implementing this, with reports of material leaking out of
system, this certainly gives us an opportunity to learn and improve.
E-waste management requires setting up extensive collection system and also
ensuring good recycling standards. Because of the different categories of
E-waste, the economics involved in managing these might vary. Though WEEE
directive in EU has put the financial responsibilities on producers, different
mechanism of managing this have emerged in various member countries. India will
also need to evolve this, as the economics of managing e- waste will be crucial
to the success of the system.
Setting up recycling targets and standards for E-waste, which is collected is
very important. This will be important not only to ensure that the toxic
material should not leach out, but to also make sure that there is good
One of the most important lessons from WEEE directive has been to understand the
importance of a review process of a Rule/ legal framework. E-waste is a
relatively new waste stream and its management will need to be a dynamic
process because of the changing design and material sciences involved in its
manufacturing. A review process will help in keeping up with the evolving
technology and emerging needs.
The WEEE directive of the EU, as stated above, is a dynamic process and is
currently under review. But the learnings from the implementation till date
have been quite crucial, especially for countries that are now on the brink of
setting up such a system. India will also need to look at the Best Practices
available and carefully examine its acceptance and adaptability to the Indian