UK worst offender for illegal e-waste exports, says EAC

26th November 2020 | Recycling

The UK is the worst offender in Europe for illegally shipping its e-waste to developing countries according to a new report published by the Environment Audit Committee (EAC). Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy, authored by the cross-party parliamentary group, explores how the UK could reduce its environmental impact, create economic opportunities and maintain access to vital materials by better managing and minimising its e-waste.

It highlights that up to an estimated 40 per cent of e-wate collected in the UK – up to 209,000 tonnes – is illegally exported overseas, while around 155,000 tonnes of e-waste is sent to domestic landfill or incineration sites. The report makes 27 recommendations on how the Government can better manage and minimise the UK’s waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). The report recommends the Government reconsiders the current collection and recycling targe systems, which are deemed “unclear” due to the Government’s use of substantiation in collection and recycling estimates and a lack of transparency about how the items will be treated after collection.


The report calls on the Government to set ambitious, long-term collection targets for e-waste – for which, according to Eunomia, the UK ranked the worst of nine European Economic Area (EEA) countries in 2018, at 29 per cent – lower than the 37 per cent substantiated estimate by Defra. The targets should align with existing commitments, such as “zero waste to landfill”, set using independently verified data.

The MPs note that weight-based targets do not adequately address the environmental impact associated with different WEEE treatment options. Targets, they argue, need to be widened to reflect other criteria as well, such as material efficiency standards. The report warms against setting targets based on volume, which Circular Resources UK says is a “useful indicator of the efficiency of bulk recovery”, but poses a “danger that the recovery of precious metals and critical raw materials [that can be] lost in this statistic.

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