European Report Lifts the Lid on the Mismanagement of Discarded Electronics

September 1, 2015

Ireland Needs to up E-Cycling Game or Risk Failing 2019 EU Target

UNU, WEEE Forum (represented by WEEE Ireland in Ireland), INTERPOL and partners conclude 2-year inquiry;
Report recommends ways to better enforce laws, monitor e-waste trade;
Cooperation vital to make stringent EU regulations function

WEEE Ireland, member and Irish representative of the WEEE Forum, today welcomed the findings from The European Union funded project, Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) which shines a powerful light on the mismanagement of discarded electronics within Europe – a volume of 10 times that of e-waste shipped to foreign shores in undocumented exports.

Ireland currently sits in the top 5 of the WEEE Forum electrical recycling table for take back per capita. While the 2016 EU target of 45% has already been met and surpassed by WEEE Ireland, a higher take back collection rate of 65% is set for 2019. In the 10 years since the introduction of the compliance scheme, WEEE Ireland have increased the WEEE take back rate in their collection areas to over 50% of household WEEE.

Alarmingly, this also reveals that there is 50% of electrical waste in Ireland still not being accounted for.  If these issues are not resolved then reaching the 2019 EU target will be a struggle for Ireland and more  resources will go to waste rather than being recycled and recovered.



HOARDING: 1 in 4 Irish people are still throwing their electrical waste in the bin or hoarding it at home.

USE OF UNAUTHORISED COLLECTIONS: Irish people are still availing of unauthorised recycling through unpermitted door to door collectors and scrap metal channels – this has the potential to cause environmental and health problems as hazardous components are not removed or processed properly. This electrical waste is also not reported to regulatory authorities and therefore not added to Ireland’s overall electrical recycling rate leaving us at risk of fines from the EU for not reaching targets

ILLEGAL DUMPING: Despite electronic recycling being FREE through local authorities and schemes such as WEEE Ireland, Irish people are still dumping waste electrical appliances waste, which can cause environmental damage to our roadsides, rivers and fields.

THE GOOD NEWS: While the 65% take back rate for 2019 is very high and going to be very challenging to meet there is one simple solution. If everyone in Ireland responsibly manages their electrical appliances at end of life and simply brings them to an authorised collection day, local retailer or civic amenity site then Ireland has the best possible change of hitting this target. This also supports jobs in the Irish WEEE recycling sector with local facilities receiving and processing material through the WEEE Ireland Scheme.

Speaking about the reports findings, Leo Donovan, CEO of WEEE Ireland said, “While Ireland has been doing exceptionally well in hitting ongoing EU targets to date, we are now faced with our biggest challenge yet to reach a take back rate of 65% in 2019. The CWIT reports sheds light on Europe’s combined electrical waste mismanagement and one way to start to combat this is to bring the responsibility back to each European citizen. In Ireland alone 25% of Irish people are still hoarding or disposing of WEEE in general waste bins. This is an issue that will contribute to Ireland’s struggle to meet the 2019 target. Electrical recycling through authorised collections is FREE and we would urge everyone to take time out to locate their nearest civic amenity site, WEEE Ireland collection day or local retailer that will accept electronic waste for recycling.”

With 10 years of great work completed, WEEE Ireland have outlined the main ways that we can continue to be a European leader in the school of WEEE recycling.

  • PREVENT WASTE by having your appliances repaired by an authorised service provider
  • Ask friends and family could they REUSE appliances that are still in good working order when you are finished with them
  • Take back older and broken appliances for RECYCLING to electrical retailers when you purchase new electrical items
  • Put your waste batteries in the WEEE Ireland blue boxes to RECYCLE FOR GOOD and help The Lauralynn Children’s Hospice Charity
  • DON’T RUBBISH IT – recycle all household electrical waste for free at WEEE Ireland collection points. See for the nearest point to you



  • The project found that in Europe just 35% (3.3 million tonnes of 9.5 million tonnes) of used (but still functioning) and waste electronics and electrical equipment discarded by companies and consumers in 2012 wound up in official collection and recycling systems.
  • The other discarded electronics – 6.2 million tonnes in all – were exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions or simply thrown in waste bins.
  • The study estimates 1.3 million tonnes of discarded electronics departed the EU in undocumented mixed exports, of which an estimated 30% (about 400,000 tonnes) was electronic waste; and 70% functioning equipment.
  • More than 10 times the 400,000 tonnes of e-waste exported – some 4.7 million tonnes – was wrongfully mismanaged or illegally traded within Europe itself. And, the research found, even in the few EU member states with robust, effective reporting systems, monitoring of de-pollution efforts and up-to-standard treatment conditions are not always securely in place.
  • The widespread theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals from waste electronics results in a serious loss of materials and resources for compliant waste processors in Europe. This annual estimated loss is valued at between €800 million and €1.7 billion (US $877 million to $1.86 billion).
  • Avoided costs of compliance with EU regulations (mainly de-pollution), is estimated at €150 million to €600 million (US $165 million to $658 million) annually.
  • A UNU study last year said toxic materials in the world’s annual 41.8 million tonnes of discarded electronics include lead in glass (an estimated 2.2 million tonnes), batteries (300,000 tonnes), mercury, cadmium, chromium and ozone-depleting substances (CFCs, 4,400 tonnes). Health problems associated with such toxins include impaired mental development, cancer and damage to livers and kidneys.


CWIT Report Recommendations :

  • The CWIT project recommendation a multi-stakeholder approach and offers a short-, medium- and long-term implementation roadmap to reduce illegal trade. 
  • Specifics include two new systems to foster inter-agency and international cooperation, as well as the exchange, storage and analysis of information:
  • An Operational Intelligence Management System to promote and support intelligence-led enforcement, advance collective knowledge about the offences related to the illegal trade and disposal of WEEE, identify the risks associated with organized crime groups (OCG) and transnational organized crime groups (TOCG), and recommend actions.
  • A National Environmental Security Task Force (NEST), formed by different authorities and partners, to enable a law enforcement response that is cooperative, collaborative and coordinated at national, regional and international levels, led by a team of specialized experts. The NEST team proposed is needed to tackle existing weaknesses in information sharing, identify significant criminal threats and trends and coordinate high profile investigations and national operations. The NEST will also act as an international gateway, connecting their respective country to the wider, global environmental security strategy.
  • The report also recommends dedicated training of judges and prosecutors. Many of the CWIT partners will continue their work in a EU funded project called DOT.COM Waste, expanding the gathered experience for training law enforcement authorities and prosecutors covering all waste types.
  • An EU-wide ban on cash transactions in the scrap metal trade
  • Mandatory treatment of WEEE according to approved standards, with a certification system in place and mandatory reporting of treatment and de-pollution results to the European Commission, in particular including unequivocal reporting on de-pollution (for example, the capture of hazardous substances like mercury in flat screens and CFC’s from fridges).
  • Full transposition and timely implementation of the Recast WEEE Directive and harmonized guidelines for distinguishing waste from non-waste.
  • More targeted, more upstream investigations, inspection systems and national monitoring
  • Improving the involvement and awareness of users in the early stages of the e-waste chain

This CWIT project and the research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° 312605 (FP7-SEC2012-312605).

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 The CWIT summary report is publicly available from Aug. 31 at

Filed Under:   Electrical Waste