A two-year investigative study by a European Union-funded project called CWIT (Countering Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Illegal Trade) has concluded that cooperation is vital in making stringent EU regulations function – through better means of enforcement and monitoring of e-waste trade.

The study, undertaken by several organisations including INTERPOL and the WEEE Forum, found that only 35% of used (but still functional) and waste electricals ended up in official collection and recycling systems within Europe. This is estimated to be a total of 3.3 million tonnes out of a total of 9.5 million tonnes. The remaining 6.2 million tonnes (65%) was either exported, sent to landfill or recycled under non-compliant methods. Around 1.3 million of this 6.2 million tonnes was further discarded through undocumented mixed exports outside of the EU, with an estimated 30% of this being electronic waste with the remaining 70% being functioning equipment.

The research found that, even in those EU member states with effective reporting and monitoring de-pollution systems, standard treatment conditions were not always in place.

Material loss from theft is an issue and can result in reduced waste being sent to compliant waste processors in Europe. This loss of waste and resources has an annual estimated loss of between €800 million and €1.7 Billion.

According to Pascal Leroy, Secretary-General of the WEEE Forum: “Electronic and electrical equipment represents the fastest-growing flow of the world’s waste streams. The weight of Europe’s mismanaged e-waste alone equals that of a 10 metre high brick wall stretching from Oslo to the toe of Italy. Valuable metals and components, including critical raw materials, need to be safely captured and recycled to the fullest possible extent.”