Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) permeates every aspect of our modern lives. It has long become impossible to imagine our everyday lives without batteries: Powerful batteries and accumulators are used in many modern electrical devices. According to forecasts by the European Commission, global consumption of lithium-ion batteries alone will increase 14-fold by 2030. Between 2020 and 2040, the European Commission expects the number of recyclable lithium batteries to increase by a factor of up to 700! But what happens to Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (or “WEEE”), batteries and the associated packaging at the end of their service life?
The number one goal is the proper disposal of WEEE, used batteries and packaging. This allows valuable raw materials to be recovered and returned to the production cycle. The circular economy and recycling are therefore also an important aspect of the European Green Deal. Unfortunately, this is not yet something that has been achieved, which means that every sound contribution to improving matters, such as what we do for our customers, is a step in the right direction in view of the constantly increasing volumes of waste.
What happens to WEEE and used batteries?
In Europe, WEEE is the fastest growing waste stream, with growth of 3-5 percent per year. The global WEEE mountain is already forecast to reach 54.7 million tons in 2021, which is more than the total weight of the Great Wall of China, the world’s heaviest man-made object.
According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, 53.63 million tons of electronic waste was produced worldwide in 2019 – a 21% increase in just 5 years!
Only 35 percent of this waste is collected and recycled in Take-Back Systems. The other 65 % are either illegally exported or recycled under conditions that do not meet EU standards (this applies to the majority of items), or incorrectly disposed of in household waste. The same lack of care applies to the proper disposal, collection and recycling of batteries.
Compliance – Responsibility for people and the environment as a joint European solution
Proper disposal is not down to voluntary commitment or a sense of responsibility on the part of individual producers; it is a legal obligation. The European Commission drafted the first Europe-wide directive back in 1988. For the first time, a European Directive had been formulated covering the introduction to market, return and environmentally compatible disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment, thus establishing the principle of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).
Based on the polluter pays principle and product responsibility, producers are required to finance waste collection and recycling – what are known as WEEE costs. The producer is understood not just as the actual manufacturer, but also as whoever places a product on the market for the first time in a given EU member state. Thus, producers as understood by the law also include online retailers (when exporting to foreign end users – both business and private) as well as importers.
Subject to constant adaptation, the current version of the European WEEE Directive (Directive 2012/19/EU for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) came into force on July 4, 2012. For example, the WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU has stipulated relative collection rates as of 2016. These are calculated on the basis of the average amount of Electrical and Electronic Equipment placed on the market in the preceding 3 years. As of 2019, 65 percent of the quantity placed on the market must be collected.
The Directive is a legal framework, but it has been implemented differently at a national level in the member states. Thus, the WEEE Directive forms the basis for the German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (“ElektroG”). This incorporates the WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU into German law in the form of German environmental legislation. This decentralised legal situation requires producers to register and meet their producer obligations separately in each country relevant to them. In the same way, there are also national statutory regulations for batteries and for packaging, each of which has to be observed by producers.