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E-scrap crime in EU ‘a huge problem’

The value of electronic scrap illegally handled in Europe in 2018 is calculated to be EUR 151 million. It is estimated this scavenging across the continent amounts to more than 152 000 tonnes of whole products and components.

The scale of the theft or misappropriation for financial gain of e-scrap has been highlighted in a report from the European Electronics Recyclers Association (EERA). All its members and other EU recyclers provided data relating to 520 000 tonnes of e-scrap treated in 43 treatment locations in nine different countries and concludes scavenging is a ‘huge problem’.

The information covered various collection categories: cooling and freezing, screens large household appliances, small household appliances and IT equipment.

Two main types of scavenging were investigated:

  • whole products, particularly those having higher economic value or re-use potential
  • components and associated environmental and economic consequences

‘Apart from the financial losses to waste compliance schemes and compliant recycling companies, there is a massive impact on the environment which cannot be ignored,’ says EERA. ‘To give just one example, the scavenging level of compressors is very concerning due to the release of ozone depleting gasses contained in the refrigeration circuit into the environment. According to our research, this would equal 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, or the annual emissions of two million cars.’

The organisation points out that scavenging of components is outside the control of legitimate recyclers but seriously affects their profitability and competitiveness when bidding for recycling tenders.

The report makes the following recommendations:

  • Make EN 50625-4 on collection and logistics mandatory in all member states
  • Establish an observatory to monitor the scavenging level in different countries/markets and associated environmental impacts, plus a common basis to estimate economic losses
  • Identify alternative financing models or compensation mechanisms to balance the economic losses caused by scavenging
  • Raise the awareness on importance of quality in collection to foster better policies and operational practices in conjunction with the Circular Economy

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