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
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)
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) 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
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
The reuse/recycling rate of their components, materials and
substances is 50%.
Different recovery and reuse/recycling targets are fixed
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
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
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. 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. 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
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: http://europa.eu.int/comm/environment/waste/weee_index.htm
 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].
 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].
 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.
 Decision 2004/249/EC