September 4, 2012

Electronic Waste Finds Its Way To The Trash In Spain

Enid Burns for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

When a device such as a cell phone, computer, or refrigerator breaks, so many of us just think to take it out with the trash. What's not considered is the hazardous materials inside the devices that then leech into the environment - or could be recycled into new devices. In Europe, there's legislation governing Integrated Waste Management Systems (SIG), however it's not always followed.

A new study conducted by the University of Salamanca finds that as much as 70% of electronic waste management in Spain is uncontrolled - meaning it gets mixed in with all the other trash. The European directive on electrical and electronic equipment waste dictates that manufacturers of the products must recycle the waste they generate.

The European Union legislation states that manufacturers must reach an annual level of recycling 4 kg per inhabitant. Recycling is to be handled by an authorized SIG, of which there are currently seven in Spain. Seven SIGs in Spain include ECOLEC, ECOTIC, ECOLUM, AMBILAMP, ECO-RAEEs, ECOASIMELEC and ECOFIMATICA.

"It is estimated that only 1,000 out of 10,000 manufacturers are registered in Spain. This implies a payment evasion of at least 15 million Euros," explains Delores Queiruga, current researcher in the Business and Economics department at the University of Rioja, as stated in a statement for SINC.

The annual volume of electronic waste in Spain reaches millions. In 2010, Spaniards generated 652 million kilograms of electronic waste. That works out to 13.86 kg per person. The report states that 2.55 kg were collected and processed correctly under the "integrated management systems" (SIG). That leaves a staggering difference between where the European Union dictates collection and processing of electronic waste should be, and where it actually is. The report looks at one country, but it raises a question of how other countries within the European Union, as well as worldwide, handle electronic waste - a growing problem.

"With the first drafts of the European Directive, manufacturers realized they had to take responsibility for the waste generated by their products and all those involved began to think about the best way to go about waste management," said Queiruga.

"Recycling quotas also reduce the amount of appliances that are thrown away. Regarding the possibilities for reducing the number of appliances disposed of each year, the expert feels it is important to extend the useful life of the product through repair and citizen awareness. The expert also points out the importance of reuse so that they take longer to turn into waste," Queiruga says.

Electronic waste is a problem that governments, manufacturers and retailers are working to control. Consumer awareness is an issue, in that consumers don't think twice about throwing out old appliances and electronics, or they don't know where they can take electronics to be recycled and handled properly.

Electronic waste, or waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) includes discarded electrical or electronic devices. Several organizations including the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Comedy Central's AddressTheMess; Basel Action Network (BAN.org) and The Electronics TakeBack Coalition have joined the cause to raise awareness and find solutions.