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Europe’s e-scrap thefts worth upwards of Euro 1.7 billion

Global – Mismanagement of discarded electronics within Europe involves a volume almost 12 times greater than that of e-scrap shipped to foreign shores in undocumented exports, according to an investigation into the functioning of the e-scrap market.

The EU-funded project Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT) was undertaken by Interpol, United Nations University, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, the WEEE Forum, the Cross Border Research Association, Zanasi & Partners and Compliance and Risks.

Some 35% – or 3.3 million tonnes – of a European total of 9.5 million tonnes of discarded electronics and electrical equipment in 2012 wound up in official collection and recycling systems, says the report. The remaining 6.2 million tonnes was either exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions or simply thrown into waste bins.

Around 1.3 million tonnes of discarded electronics left the EU in undocumented mixed exports, of which an estimated 30% (around 400 000 tonnes) was electronic waste; the rest was functioning equipment. Approaching 12 times the 400 000 tonnes of e-scrap exported – some 4.7 million tonnes – was wrongfully mismanaged or illegally traded within Europe itself.

According to the research, widespread theft of valuable components such as circuit boards and precious metals from e-scrap results in a loss of materials and resource for compliant waste processors in Europe valued at between Euro 800 million and Euro 1.7 billion (US$ 880 million to US$ 1.9 billion). Avoided costs of compliance with EU regulations are estimated at Euro 150 million to Euro 600 million (US$ 165 million to US$ 658 million) on an annual basis.

On average in a year, only 2000 tonnes (0.5%) of EU e-scrap exports are reported as having been stopped in operations leading to some form of sentencing, administrative fines or civil penalties. ‘Organised crime is involved in illegal waste supply chains in some countries, but suspicions of its heavy involvement are not corroborated by current information,’ the study reports.

In addition to mismanagement, the project revealed cases of fraud, tax evasion and money laundering, demonstrating ‘the availability’ of financial crime charges in dealing with offences.

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