Europe Cleans Up Its E-Waste Act

"WEEE Man" This 21-foot-tall, three ton sculpture is made of 198 household devices, including 5 refrigerators, 35 cell phones, and 23 computer mice, representing the lifetime e-waste of the average European. Photo courtesy

In the last 10 years, Europe has led the way in reducing the impact of throwaway technology. Here's a quick guide to new European initiatives.

  • Extended Producer Responsibility: Clean up your own mess. First, there was Germany's packaging ordinance, which reduced waste by over a million metric tons per year and created strong incentives to cut non-recyclable or toxic components.
  • BAN: Don't trash your neighbor's yard. The EU has banned export of hazardous waste, including e-waste from Europe to developing countries.
  • WEEE: Take it back. With a target of recycling 4 kilos (8.8 pounds) of e-waste per person each year, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive requires producers to design for easy recycling, repair, and upgrades, and to take back used appliances.
  • RoHS: Take out toxins. Appliance manufacturers must phase out the six most toxic manufacturing components by July 1, 2006.
  • Guarantees Directive: Make it last. EU law now mandates a two-year guarantee on all electrical appliances, encouraging producers to shift away from throwaway products.
Japan is following Europe's lead, passing its own Extended Producer Responsibility laws and developing substitutes for toxic components in order to stay competitive in European markets.
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