Europe can do more to recycle electronic waste: U.N.

OSLO (Reuters) - Europe can do far more to recycle electronic waste ranging from mobile phones to freezers since most ends up on dumps despite years of collection efforts, a U.N. study showed on Thursday.

“There is a lot of room for improvement even though Europe is often seen as a good example,” said Ruediger Kuehr, manager of a study led by the U.N. University for the European Commission on how to salvage electronic and electric waste.

It said that Europe by 2011 could collect about 5.3 million tonnes of such waste, out of a projected total 9.7 million tonnes, against 2.2 million tonnes in 2005 of an 8.3 million total. Europe accounts for about a quarter of world electronic waste.

“Consumers are not aware that they are meant to return equipment and have not been informed of the environmental impact of the waste,” Kuehr, based in Bonn, told Reuters. Many components are toxic.

The study said that the 27-member European Union could raise collection rates for big appliances, such as dishwashers or cookers, to 75 percent in the long term from 40 percent now.

And it could improve collection of smaller objects, such as MP3 players, hairdryers, TVs or microwaves, to 60 percent from 25 percent.

“The heart of our study is: collect more and treat it in a good environmental way,” said Jaco Huisman, a lead author.

Among priorities were better collection of old fridges and freezers that release coolants when they rust that are powerful greenhouse gases that also damage the ozone layer.


And an estimated 4.3 tonnes of toxic mercury was contained in 660 million energy saving light bulbs sold in the EU in 2006.

A separate U.S. survey on Thursday showed only 23 percent of Americans recycle old or unused electronic items, according to office products group Staples, which introduced a program in May offering to recycle any item for $10.

In Europe, costs for collection and salvage are expected to rise but could be dampened by higher costs of salvaged metals that include traces of silver, gold and platinum. Recycling systems are in place but are not fully exploited.

“My guess is that there is no need really to increase the price” for buyers of electronic goods, Kuehl said.

The study said that collection and treatment costs were expected to rise from 0.76 billion euros ($1.11 billion) in 2005 to 3.0 billion euros in 2020.

The study is meant to help the EU with a 2008 review of a directive that makes producers responsible for financing the collection, treatment and recovery of waste and forces distributors to let consumers return waste free of charge.