Along with RoHS (which we went over last week), WEEE is one of the main pieces of environmental legislation currently enacted in the European Union. While RoHS limits the types of materials used in products, WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) regulates the disposal of electronic goods. However, WEEE can be a bit more complicated than RoHS as it is not uniformly implemented across the countries of the EU. The WEEE legislation was set up to be indicative of the general goals, with the member states of the EU deciding how much they wanted to increase upon the original scope.
The WEEE directive was created to promote recycling of electronic equipment. One of the biggest environmental problems with electrical equipment is that if it is not disposed of properly then it can end up in landfills not only in its original country but also often in third world countries. Many landfills and treatment facilities are not properly set up to accept the amount of electrical equipment that they receive, creating hazards for both the environment and people in the area. In a guest blog for All-Spec in 2008 Dr. Ronald Lasky talked about some of these problems, most of which still exist today. For this and many other reasons, the EU has been looking at revising the WEEE directive since December 2008, and we are getting closer to the recast coming into force. The European Parliament has set dates for the next debate and vote on the WEEE recast, on January 18th and 19th of 2012.
What exactly will be changed by this recast? For one, the mandatory targets for electronics collection would be set at 65% of the weight of electronic equipment going on the market for a country. This should both increase the amount collected (as only one third is being treated right now) and make sure the legislation is fair across countries that use more or less electronics than normal.
Another area that is being addressed in the WEEE recast is the various rules by different countries in the EU. While there will not be a complete homogenization of rules, the recast will try to make some parts more universal. This should help with trade between countries and alleviate a few of the headaches caused by having to know how the laws change between various countries for the disposal of electronics.
Some of the changes to WEEE are not only meant to change the scope, but also to clarify the document in general. In particular, the retrieval of critical raw materials is being added to some passages along side of the proper disposal and recycling of electronic equipment. This was already in the original document in some places, but now it is being pushed harder by adding more specific regulations.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the WEEE changes, as with any legislation it is very long and complicated. For more information, you can find the actual documents from the European Parliament’s website. Some more general information can also be found on the European Commission’s environmental website, as well as the United State’s export website. Check back on the website next Monday for more information on environmental legislation as we go over REACH, and if you did not see it last week then take a look at our article on RoHS II here.