UK goes WEEE!

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive was adopted by the EU in 2003. It aims to reduce the amount of WEEE being disposed in landfills by promoting separate collection, treatment and recycling. This directive started in effect in various parts of the UK this past January. You can get more details to familiarize yourself with their new WEEE requirements, should you ship your electronics to the UK.

I have read some articles lately, and found several interesting observations:

  • Over 133,000 PC’s are discarded by consumers and businesses in the US every DAY. (Gartner Group Research).
  • Over 2 Million tons of electronic waste was thrown-out by consumers in the US in 2005. (EPA Study)
  • Only 10-15% of electronic waste in the US is recycled. (industry analysts).
  • Hewlett-Packard has a huge electronics recycling facility in Roseville, CA. No estimates on how much of H-P’s electronic waste is recycled there. The metals are sent to smelters in the Sacramento area. (No data available on real estate prices or water quality in those areas in the articles I read.)
  • Dell also has a huge electronics recycling facility. (no reference to location).
  • Of the electronics waste that is recycled in the US, about 80% of it is shipped to India or China where they have facilities to extract the valuable metals with unskilled, low-wage labor. Allegedly, there are high concentrations of these metals in the soil and water around these facilities (environmental activists’ claims). No mention of metals being found in the bodies of the workers.
  • As well as Europe and the UK, Japan and South Korea have WEEE laws requiring electronics manufacturers to pay for and manage their own recycling operations for their products. In the US, electronics waste seems to be a major product export category.
  • The US has no mandatory WEEE laws, but Maine, Washington, and Maryland (and a dozen other states) are considering “take back laws”that electronics manufacturers will be required to obey (want to bet who will be first…California or Massachusetts?)

I find this whole WEEE issue interesting, particularly from the fact that no matter where your product winds up after sale, it must be shipped back to you, the original manufacturer, for disposal/recycling. Wouldn’t it make better sense to dispose/recycle it where the user/discarder lives? I guess the prevailing logic is that the OEM has already contaminated the environment where the product was built, and he’s the one who made a pile of money selling it, so he should pay for the disposal/recycling. Shipping it back to the OEM doesn’t do any more environmental damage than was already done by the OEM’s manufacturing facility. These are government programs, so maybe my mistake is thinking about them logically. But in couple of years, we will need to lease a fleet of large ocean freighters to carry the electronics we will be sending back to China.

Regards….Ray Alderman