Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here today to celebrate with you 15 years of continuous efforts of the WEEE Forum. 15 years well spent in improving the management of waste from electrical and electronic equipment.

We are also celebrating the anniversary of the EU WEEE Directive.

So this is a good opportunity to take stock of what has been accomplished so far and to identify the challenges ahead.       
It is now just over a year since the Commission presented its Circular Economy Package.

So, today at this WEEE Forum in Malta, we need to look at where we stand today, and at what the future holds in this wider context of the circular economy; to share views and examples of good-practices of how to make the circular economy work best for electrical and electronic equipment.

Nowadays, a society without electrical or electronic equipment is hard to imagine. Not surprisingly, they are usually high on the consumers' wish list.

It is true that they make our world more efficient, and sometimes also 'greener'.

  • Teleconferencing helps to reduce the need for travel, saving resources and CO2 emissions;
  • We have easy access to environmental information, helping us to make smart choices about what we buy;
  • And those products are increasingly smart themselves, saving water and energy, and managing themselves or allowing us to manage them through IT technology.

But, that explosion in electrical and electronic equipment has a cost; the production of modern electronic products requires limited and expensive resources.

  • 10% of total gold, and 30% of silver and copper worldwide are used for the production of modern electronics, as well as a wide range of rare earth metals. Those critical materials have very low recycling rates, lower than 1%, according to the UNEP 2015 Global Waste Management Outlook;
  • Those products often have a relatively short life;
  • And they can contain hazardous substances which can pose risks to the environment and health.

It is hardly surprising that waste from electronics is the fastest-growing waste stream all around the world, and that Europe has the highest generation per capita of this waste.

That is why the electronics industry is a prime example of why we need to move from waste management to resource management, and also why we have to find circular solutions.

WEEE provides a prime example of why recycling efforts pay off.

It pays off for the environment; it pays off for industry; and it pays off in jobs.

It pays off for the environment by reducing the need for virgin materials which come at very high costs in terms of land use and energy.

It pays off for industry by increasing resource efficiency and the supply of important, scarce and critical raw materials at high quality levels;

And it pays of in jobs by developing innovative recycling activities that are based locally in Europe.

In February I had the opportunity to visit one of the Europe's best-known high-tech recycling facilities in Belgium.

I was able to witness a very good example of the radical and successful transformation of a business that had embraced a circular economy model. A business created from a group of mining and smelting companies 200 years ago, moving into the 21st century by transforming into a leading business in global materials technology and recycling.

This is a model that makes sense in a Europe that is relatively resource poor and energy poor, but that is rich in creativity, innovation and its people.

Where do we stand now with the tools to support the transition to a circular economy for the electronics sector?

The first WEEE Directive, adopted in 2002, had as objectives the protection of the environment and human health, and the reduction of the impact of resource use resulting from the generation of WEEE.

Looking back over the last 15 years we can all agree that we have achieved a lot.

In 2005, we collected about 300.000 tonnes of WEEE in Europe; today that figures stands at more than 3.5 million tonnes. And successful implementation of the final target of the Directive would mean that in 2020, we will separately collect about 10 million tonnes of WEEE.

We are radically reducing the amount of WEEE that ends up in landfills and the amount of WEEE that undergoes substandard treatment inside or outside the EU.

We have – through the Directive – driven better product design to facilitate the reuse and recycling of products.

We have improved information exchange between producers and recyclers to facilitate the reuse, the recovery and the dismantling of electrical and electronic equipment.

And to make the Directive work better still, it is crucial that we move ahead with the dialogue between producers and recyclers which started last year.

One of the most important elements in making the Directive really operational, was the Extended Producer Responsibility. And that is why you are here today.

It has been vital in helping authorities finance waste management and in creating incentives for producers to design products that have reduced environmental impacts and are re-usable and recyclable.

The WEEE Forum has played an active role in making sure that producer responsibility works effectively, bringing the intentions set out in the Directive into reality in practical ways.

For example, you have driven the development of the WEEELabex standards, which in turn has fed into the development of European Standards currently underway by CENELEC.

The Commission is also working to improve practical implementation of the WEEE Directive on the ground. Last week we adopted a number of reports confirming the scope and the targets of the WEEE Directive, and a methodology and tools to assist Member States in calculating WEEE generated.

Ensuring the full implementation on the ground of the legislative framework is now more crucial than ever. Our priority for 2017 is a comprehensive WEEE compliance promotion initiative to assist Member States and reinforce the exchange of experiences between them.

Many of you have been consulted in shaping this initiative, as ownership of the Member States and stakeholders is crucial for its success.

Two very interesting seminars involving the relevant national authorities and stakeholders have already been organised this spring in countries with good performance in WEEE management: France and Bulgaria. Seminars with other Member States will follow to identify success factors and challenges as well as to make recommendations for all Member States.

We are also developing a number of measures under the Circular Economy package which will contribute to closing the cycle, promoting products designed for reuse and recycling, and business models that go with such transformation.

Last January the Commission adopted a proposal to make targeted amendments to the Directive restricting the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment  - the "RoHS Directive". These will enable operators to prolong the use of electrical and electronic equipment, postponing their end-of-life and avoiding additional generation of waste. It will also boost the profitability of recycling waste from that equipment.

We estimate to avoid the creation of more than 3000 tonnes of hazardous waste per year in the EU, apart from related savings of energy and raw materials.

We also proposed a wide-ranging review of waste legislation which is now on the table of the European Parliament and Council. In this we have set out minimum requirements for Extended Producer Responsibility schemes to provide a common frame for good practice and build upon what the WEEE Directive already achieves. These requirements should improve transparency, cost-efficiency and governance of producer obligations across the EU while, at the same time, providing an incentive to producers to improve product design.

I am sure that you can share many best practices from your own experiences, for instance concerning modulation of producer fees to facilitate product design changes. I would welcome your input to fully support enabling those schemes to ensure their crucial role as a link between production and waste treatment.

Under the current Ecodesign Working Plan, we are focusing on requirements for durability, reparability, design for disassembly, and ease of reuse and recycling when addressing product design for important product groups.

For example, recent implementing regulations by the Commission for electronic displays, such as computer monitors and televisions, contain product design and marking requirements to ease their dismantling, preparation for reuse and recycling.

And later this year we will specifically address plastics with a Strategy on Plastics in a Circular Economy. Plastics are an important component of electrical and electronic products. They present important challenges in the value chain, linked to reuse, recyclability, hazardous substances content and marine litter.

In the EU, more than 1 million tonnes of plastic waste generated in 2014 came from WEEE and recycling rates of this plastic waste were very low, only 19%. We all agree that we must improve this percentage!

Our Strategy will tackle how to decouple plastics production from fossil fuels, how to improve the economics, quality and uptake of plastic recycling and reuse, and how to reduce leakage of plastic in the environment.

We will also address the Interface between Chemicals, Products and Waste legislations, to analyse problems that may unnecessarily delay the transition of recycled materials into fit-for-purpose products that can be reintroduced into the productive economy.

We published the roadmaps for these actions in January. Please read them and examine what businesses and organisations can do to support us towards the objectives stated in the roadmaps.

We value highly your input, as we do that of all stakeholders and citizens. And this counts also for the development of the circular economy. In March we launched the European Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform to provide a forum for the exchange of best practices.

The role of the WEEE Forum has been absolutely crucial to turning legislative intentions into reality, and I thank you for your support in providing that essential link. We value your partnership, and wish you every success for the next 15 years.

Once again thank you for inviting me and thank you for your attention.

 


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