Significant changes around the reuse of WEEE could be on the cards as MEPs will be voting on the WEEE directive later in the year (see our blog explaining the EU legislative process). The European Parliament’s (EP) draft report was recently published and the final version is due to be adopted by the EP’s Environment Committee by 4th October 2011.
The EP’s draft report is very welcome as it calls for the establishment of reuse targets. Although the current WEEE Directive does recognise the superior environmental benefits of reuse over recycling, as it contains language that prioritises reuse, there are no specific targets which means that, unfortunately, recycling often becomes the practical reality. The EP has proposed that the new directive would contain separate reuse and recycling targets, and, although some of their suggested reuse targets are far too small (at just 5%), it constitutes an important first step to prioritising reuse over recycling.
We strongly believe there should be targets for reuse, for a number of reasons. The WEEE legislation is based on the waste hierarchy which encourages the prevention of waste, followed by the reuse and refurbishment of goods, then value recovery through recycling and energy recovery being the final option. Mandating reuse targets would help ensure that reuse actually occurred and that disposal of e-waste reflected the priorities in the waste hierarchy.
In the ICT domain, there are many good reasons to prioritise reuse over recycling and we’ve included a few of them below:
First, ICTs are often replaced long before the end of their productive lives. Our recent research conducted by Vanson Bourne found that typically, UK companies replace their base units every 3.7 years. Considering that the average lifespan of a PC is closer to 10 years, these PCs are not even half way through their life when discarded. In addition the energy intensity used in the production of computers rather than in their use phase (80 and 20 percent, respectively) means that any activity that extends their life-such as reuse, is by far the most environmentally superior option.
Finally, reusing PCs can be of huge social benefit to the millions of people who cannot currently afford access to new computers – for example, at Computer Aid we have seen time and again the difference which refurbished PCs can have in developing countries – for some examples see here.
These are just a few of the reasons but for more information on why reuse is better than recycling please take a look at our special report on the subject.
The reuse target is clearly a good thing, however it is far from certain that it will be adopted. Although the EP support a reuse target, both the EP and the Council (made up of the EU member states) have to agree to changes in the WEEE Directive for changes to be made. Because of this, we really hope that the EP will hold firm on the need to have separate reuse targets in the revised WEEE Directive and we would urge the EU member states to consider altering their position on this extremely important issue.