The European Union (EU) has a set lofty and commendable goal for its member countries to reach by 2021 in the battle against e-waste: to collect and recycle 65 percent of the average weight of electronic equipment and lamps sold in each country over the previous three years. However, a new United Nations University report, detailing the results from a scientific research project that maps out the origins and destinations of e-waste flows in the Netherlands, suggests that this won’t be possible without individual governments introducing additional measures.

Such are the findings of an international e-waste conference held in Amsterdam on March 15, which brought together representatives from the United Nations with various European stakeholders and international representatives from the U.S. and Japan. Together, they made sense of the findings of a study [PDF] conducted by Wecycle—an electronics recycling organization that operates in partnership with the Dutch government—that maps out in unprecedented detail the origins and destinations of e-waste flows in the Netherlands.

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E-waste has been a traditionally difficult waste stream to get a handle on, and no less in the Netherlands than anywhere as. That’s because once an electronic product is sold, a number of different things can happen to it—it can be resold in working order, collected and treated on a national level by one of two government compliance programs (Wecycle and ICT~Milieu), recycled by national recyclers who report to local or provincial authorities, or by small, door-to-door trade, second-hand shops, or exported (illegally) out of sight.

Those attending the conference, in making sense of the data gathered by this project, found that the Netherlands and other EU countries could collect and recycle more e-waste by implementing the following measures: a registration mandate for collectors and recyclers (who would also be obliged to report into the government with details on what they are doing with their e-waste); instituting the “old for new” principle in retail stores, ensuring that it’s easy and free for consumers to hand in small electrical devices and lamps for recycling; a delivery obligation for councils and shops (mandating that local governments and small retailers hand in a certain amount of e-waste each year); and obliging exporters of second-hand electrical consumer goods for reuse in developing countries to have a declaration stating that each of the devices is still in good working order.

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