WEEE is the fastest growing garbage problem in Europe. To make matters worse, authorities do not know where half of it ends up. At current capacity only one-third of waste electrical and electronic equipment, to give its full name, is safely discarded. Annual generation of unwanted TVs, computers, mobile phones, kettles, refrigerators and the like, far outstrips the ability to collect and recycle it. By 2020 Europeans will be creating more than 12m tonnes annually.
A lot ends up in a landfill or the incinerator, where groundwater and atmosphere are exposed to the hazardous materials that keep gadgets ticking. Worse, some is smuggled off to developing countries where penniless laborers, often children, strip away toxic chemicals with their bare hands to salvage whatever valuable metals the nearest dealership will take.
In addition to environmental and health risks, Europe faces a supply shortage of many rare materials needed for electronic products, including cobalt, mercury and lead, which can, in theory, be recovered. It is no great surprise, then, that collection for recycling of e-wastei is a major priority for EU policymakers. Laws to this end have been in force since 2004, but are regarded even by eurocrats as excessively confusing and ineffective, and are in the process of being rewritten. [more The Economist]