Electronic waste

The increased consumption in Europe of electrical and electronic equipment has led to a parallel increase in the waste derived from these devices, an area which is growing three times faster than that of other solid urban waste. According to the statistics provided by European bodies, 4% of the continent's waste is electronic.

A large part of this waste is not managed correctly by those responsible. It has been calculated that by 2020, 4.3 million tonnes of waste will be improperly processed each year. Many of the components found on these devices are highly polluting, meaning that there is an important environmental consequence here. However, there is also an economic aspect to the problem, given the high value and scarceness of many of the materials used in the manufacture of this equipment.

In Spain, over 160,000 tonnes of electronic waste is generated by private homes. If we add the waste produced by the electronics sector, the industry and commercial establishments, this figure rises to more than 200,000 tonnes.

Recycling points

Home owners have two alternatives when it comes to getting rid of old electrical and electronic equipment:

Ask the distributor to dispose of old equipment when replacements are bought or else dispose of them at municipal recycling points. The current scarcity of these recycling points makes this latter option more difficult than it should be. Furthermore, there is evidence of widespread waste management irregularities at these collection points.

Companies can only dispose of waste through an authorised waste management operator.

Opportunity: the reuse of waste electronic equipment

Given the problems we have mentioned, the Commission has instigated a review of Directive 2002/96/EC which seeks to improve effectiveness and application, as well as reducing administrative costs related to implementation. The Commission has therefore proposed, among other measures, promoting the reuse of devices, setting specific targets which member states are obliged to meet. The draft amended directive establishes that reused waste should represent the equivalent of 4% of the sale of new equipment.

Regardless of the fact that the European administration sees reuse as representing the spirit of environmental law and the first step on the recycling ladder, we also want to set out our own vision of how this activity may well represent an opportunity for cities who realise the economic, social and environmental potential.

We will be focussing this analysis solely on IT equipment (computers, monitors and peripherals).

Social and environmental benefits

The integrated management of electrical and electronic waste for its subsequent reuse will have a positive effect in social and environmental terms. The following sets out the estimated benefits:

  1. 1. A recent case of more than 20 tonnes of managed waste showed that over 65% of complete obsolete equipment could have been reused. If we add the reuse of components, the percentage rises to 70%.
  2. beneficio 2. A study undertaken by revertia and the Universidade de Vigo highlights a saving of 235 kg of CO2 on each complete reused piece of computer equipment. The emissions averted in the manufacture of a new piece of equipment compensate for the emissions produced by prolonging the life cycle of the old equipment.
  3. 3. Finally, we should highlight the growing social awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability, avoiding the unnecessary generation of waste.

Economic value

The proposed new activity would create direct and indirect employment which could result in a boost for cities opting for this initiative. As well as the staff directly employed to carry out the reuse processes, it would be necessary to create a logistics platform for the collection and transport of materials.