The WEEE Challenge - Europe Faces Up to Electronic Waste Directives

The 2003 EU directives on electronic waste treatment have stirred their share of controversy. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and its complementary directive, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) prohibiting the use of specific toxic substances were passed in an effort to tackle the huge recent growth in e-waste by encouraging recycling and multiple uses of products and the elimination of any hazardous wastes they may contain.

by Luk Van Wassenhove, Panfeng Chan,Priya Narayan

The 2003 EU directives on electronic waste treatment have stirred their share of controversy. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and its complementary directive, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) prohibiting the use of specific toxic substances were passed in an effort to tackle the huge recent growth in e-waste -- now one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the world - by encouraging recycling and multiple uses of products and the elimination of any hazardous wastes they may contain.

Henry Ford Chaired Professor of Manufacturing Luk Van Wassenhove explores the whys and wherefores of the WEEE Directive, particularly what he views as its lynchpin: the distinction it makes in assigning producer responsibility for both "historical" (i.e., products on the market before August 2005) and future e-waste.

A major sticking point with the WEEE Directive is its requirement that individual producers be held responsible for whatever electrical and electronic equipment they release to market, either via individual or collective systems. Van Wassenhove discusses four different main models of how many of Europe's largest such manufacturers have opted to deal with this issue. These include effects on product design; the impact on component supply chains; product information and reporting, and product marking.

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