Electrical waste: falling far short of collection target of 65 percent

Amended Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act expected to improve situation from 2022

used electrical and electronic equipment in a container, for example monitors, computers and household appliancesClick to enlarge
The ElectroG requires proper disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment.
Source: SGappa / Fotolia.com

A new evaluation by the German Environment Agency (UBA) reports that municipalities, retailers and producers in Germany collected 947,067 tonnes of electrical waste in 2019. The amount corresponds to a collection rate of 44.3 percent, which means the minimum collection target of 65 percent which was set for all EU member states in 2019 was missed and fell short of some 443,000 tonnes. The amended Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG) provides for new electrical waste take-back obligations from 2022 and improved consumer information aimed at increasing collection rates. UBA's President Dirk Messner said, "These changes are an important step. From 1 July 2022, discount grocery stores must also take back electrical waste. The disposal of old appliances can thus be handled close to the consumer and at the same time as weekly shopping. However, it will take more time until the statistics reflect the new regulations. Retailers, manufacturers and municipalities must also get more involved and further improve collection and take-back options, for example through more accessible recycling centres or more flexible take-back hours. Too much used equipment is still being disposed improperly."

With the aim of boosting the polluter-pays principle with regard to the collection and disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment and achieving and securing the collection rate of 65 per cent in the long term, UBA is already working on concrete strategies for extended producer responsibility. UBA's Dirk Messner said, "We have to make the actors responsible - from manufacturers to retailers to municipalities – even more so than before. On the way to a true circular economy, we need to collect significantly more end-of-life appliances, make more end-of-life appliances ready for reuse, safely remove harmful substances from the material cycle and recover raw materials in large quantities. To strengthen the use of recycled materials, pricing of primary raw materials is also conceivable, of course." The goal is to develop the product stream as a whole – i.e. from raw material production to product design, consumer behaviour and disposal to the provision of secondary raw materials – towards a true circular economy.

Research has shown that many citizens lack sufficient information the possibilities and responsibility to dispose of electrical waste. Too many old appliances are still not disposed of properly: small used appliances such as electric toothbrushes or alarm clocks often end up in household waste or are disposed of with packaging waste. Sometimes they are left in drawers and cellars without ever being disposed of. Large appliances such as washing machines and commercially used electrical appliances are often collected by non-certified scrap yards and (scrap) collectors. UBA is currently investigating these illegal channels as part of a research project in order to develop measures against them.

The quantity of new electrical appliances is increasing steadily and significantly. The total volume of new appliances in 2019 was 2.9 million tonnes, an increase of a full 60 percent compared to 2013. The enormous increase is partly due to the expansion of the scope of application of ElektroG. For example, photovoltaic modules, which have a very long service life, have also been covered by the ElektroG since February 2016 and, since August 2018, products with a built-in electrical function such as textiles (e.g. illuminated or "flashing" shoes or clothing) or furniture (e.g. electric massage chairs, gaming chairs with integrated speakers or LED lighting) have also been covered as part of the newly introduced open scope. Since May 2019, passive devices such as cables, sockets or light switches have also been included in the scope. Shorter useful lives, an increasing number of private households, more appliances per household or higher average weights per appliance as well as generally larger appliances, e.g. refrigerators or televisions, also account for the fact that the total mass of appliances is increasing every year.

The first measures to increase the collection of used appliances will be implemented through the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG) which was amended in early 2021. The Act enters into force on 1 January 2022. Starting on 1 July 2022, for example, grocery retailers (e.g. supermarkets and discounters) with a sales area of at least 800 square metres will also have to take back end-of-life appliances free of charge if they offer new appliances on a regular basis. As of next year, electrical appliance retailers must also provide more information about take-back obligations and return options. All collection and take-back points must also be labeled uniformly.

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 Waste electrical equipment  Old electrical equipment  Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act