Raw Materials in E-Waste: EU Wants to Strengthen Circular Economy

by | 9. Oct 2023 - 13:10 | Politics

700 million mobile phones unused – national authorities to be supported in collection and recycling.

The EU Commission wants to improve the recycling of discarded or unused consumer electronics in the member states. A set of new recommendations is intended to support national authorities in collecting, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling small electrical appliances.

According to the Commission’s estimates, there are 700 million unused or end-of-life mobile phones in the EU. The collection rate is less than five percent. In German households alone, more than 200 million discarded mobile phones are stored, according to the industry association Bitkom. Yet these devices are valuable sources of critical minerals such as rare earths, cobalt, indium, gallium, and precious metals, whose demand is growing due to the energy transition and digitalization. The EU is highly dependent on imports here.

By recycling these waste streams and increasing the repair and reuse of small electronics, the EU aims to support the transition to a circular economy and strengthen domestic supply security for critical raw materials. The new recommendations include targets for reuse and increasing awareness of take-back schemes for small electronics. Financial incentives, such as deposit return schemes or monetary rewards, are also intended to help put unused or no longer functioning consumer electronics to a new use.

The next step is for Member States to consider the Commission’s recommendation and take appropriate action.

The disposal of e-waste has been regulated by law at the EU level since 2002, and the directives were revised in 2012. Within this framework, the member states must set up take-back systems for consumers. However, the return rates are to be improved against the background of the European Green Deal, aiming to make Europe climate-neutral by 2050, and the Action Plan for Circular Economy, among others. Recycling is also important for the first EU draft law on securing critical raw materials.

Photo: iStock/Nikolay Chekalin

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