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Analysis on data from Sarah Downes, External Affairs, REPIC

The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 provides the most comprehensive overview of the global e-waste challenge, by providing national and regional analysis on e-waste quantities and legislative instruments, as well as making predictions until 2030. The report also estimates that globally 17.4% of e-waste generated was collected and recycled in 2019.

The updated report published by The Global E-waste Statistics Partnership (GESP), which was founded in 2017 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations University (UNU), and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), also predicts that global e-waste will reach 74 Mt by 2030. This makes e-waste the world’s fastest-growing domestic waste stream.

The objectives of the Partnership are to monitor developments of e-waste over time, and to help countries to produce e-waste statistics. Since 2017 it has published the second and third editions of the Global E-waste Monitor and established to publicly visualise the most relevant e-waste indicators on e-waste generated and e-waste formally collected.

The full report is available to download at:

How does Europe compare with the rest of the world?

According to the report, Asia generated the greatest volume of e-waste in 2019 at 24.9 Mt, followed by the Americas (13.1 Mt) and Europe (12 Mt), while Africa and Oceania generated 2.9 Mt and 0.7 Mt, respectively.    In 2019, Asia generated more e-waste than other continents (24.9 Mt), but the continent that generates the most WEEE in kg per capita is Europe (16.2 kg per capita). Thanks to the impact of EU Directives on WEEE, Europe also has the highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling rate (42.5%).

Continent E-waste Generated Mt E-waste generated kg per capita E-waste documented as properly collected and recycled Mt E-waste documented as properly collected and recycled %
Europe 12 16.2 5.1 42.5
Asia 24.9 5.6 2.9 11.7
Americas 13.1 13.3 1.2 9.4
Africa 2.9 2.5 0.03 0.9
Oceania 0.7 16.1 0.06 8.8

The impact of the WEEE Directive in the EU and UK

Collection data reported to Eurostat for 2017 shows that 59% of the e-waste generated in Northern Europe and 54% of e-waste generated in Western Europe is documented as being formally recycled. These are the highest percentages in the world but still fall short of the 85% of WEEE generated, or 65% EEE POM targets set for member states in 2019.

The report states that the feasibility of achieving the EU target and the location of other e-waste flows have been the subject of several national studies in recent years. Whilst such studies indicate that an increasing share of WEEE, relative to estimates for the total WEEE generated, is being compliantly recycled than in the past, there are still significant flows of unreported WEEE in the EU.  The most significant flow of WEEE outside of the formal system being WEEE in scrap. Recent studies also indicate that despite relatively high environmental awareness within the EU, WEEE is still disposed of in residual waste, and that small WEEE can end up in residual waste bins.

Within these regions, the UK is grouped in to Northern Europe and according to work currently being undertaken by UNITAR on behalf of the WEEE Forum, utilising their methodology which includes substantiated estimates, the UK rate as a percentage of WEEE generated is at the high end of the Northern European average (results embargoed until November 2020).

Anthesis has also recently reported[1] that when looking at reported data for EEE sales and recycling for 2018, the recycling rate would have been 55%, including reuse. Anthesis also reported that some 155,000 tonnes of WEEE is being discarded in the household residual waste bin.

At the time that both reports were being written, the 2019 UK data had not been published and Eurostat data for 2019 is as yet unpublished. In setting the targets for PCSs in 2019, Defra stated that the UK Member State target was 1,062,030 tonnes (including household and non-household WEEE). The total household target was set at 871,602 tonnes which included substantiated estimates for large domestic appliances collected with scrap metal and recycled outside the WEEE system and data from recyclers on non-obligated WEEE. Meeting the targets set for PCSs would have resulted in a collection rate of 65% when rounded to the nearest percent. The PCS target was not achieved which left the UK recycling rate at approximately 50%.

It appears from working within the WEEE Forum community that the majority of EU member states will fall well short of the 2019 targets. Countries with relatively high collection rates include Ireland which has a visible fee, regional allocation of WEEE, mandatory handover and reporting by all actors, and strong consumer engagement.

These issues are being investigated as part of on-going study being undertaken by UNITAR, on behalf of the WEEE Forum. The gap to target, and analysis of the gap to target, in relation to the national market, WEEE flows and implementation of the WEEE Directive are all being documented. The results of this study together with recommendations from the WEEE Forum on target setting will be published at the end of November 2020. REPIC will provide a further paper on this in December.

Recognising the importance of statistics and data

Material Focus has funded important work to improve the evidence base on many aspects of the UK WEEE system. Improving data and intelligence are key to both managing WEEE properly and understanding where interventions are required to move to more circular economy business models. As the Global e-waste Monitor says:

“Monitoring the quantities and flows of e-waste is essential for evaluating developments over time, for setting and assessing targets. The development of sound policies and legal instruments can only be achieved with better e-waste data. Understanding the quantities and flows of e-waste provides a basis for monitoring, controlling, and ultimately preventing illegal transportation, dumping, and improper treatment of e-waste. In the absence of any quantification of transboundary movements or informal e-waste activities, policy makers at the national, regional, and international levels will not be in a position to address these issues.”

The provision of coherent WEEE data contributes to better understanding the magnitude of challenges relating to WEEE, setting appropriate collection and recycling targets, establishing priorities for policy makers, influencing regulations, setting policy targets, and allocating adequate financial resources.

This article has drawn on information from:

Forti V., Baldé C.P., Kuehr R., Bel G. The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential. United Nations University (UNU)/United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) – co-hosted SCYCLE Programme, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association (ISWA), Bonn/Geneva/Rotterdam.

ISBN Digital: 978-92-808-9114-0

ISBN Print: 978-92-808-9115-7

[1] An independent study on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) flows in the UK Material Focus

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