The recycling of waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is particularly important not so much for material recovery but mainly for the management of hazardous materials contained in most devices. European legislation requires the recycling of WEEE in certified plants where materials such as copper, gold, silver etc are recovered and the leakage of hazardous heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, etc. is prevented.
In Greece, the annual waste electrical and electronic equipment is estimated at 120,000 to 140,000 tons (app. 135,000 tons in the year 2012). Waste electrical and electronic equipment has been identified by the Greek legislation as a priority waste stream, due to the dangerous nature of growth in the volume and the significant impact caused by the production of electrical and electronic equipment in the environment. Given the above, the European Commission has proposed the increase of WEEE recycling up to 55-85% by 2019 (depending on the category of the equipment).
The revenue from the management of WEEE in the EU is valued at about 2 billion annually and according to estimations in 2020 it will amount to 5.6 billion annually. Since it is an activity carried out mostly within the EU, the management of such waste generates income and employment, as the industry is highly labor intensive.
Improper treatment and improper disposal of waste in developing countries is a problem for the health of people exposed to highly toxic substances when removing valuable materials without protection measures for health and the environment. In case best practices are applied, the leakage of dangerous substances is avoided and valuable recyclable metals are recovered.
Based on data from the European Environment Agency, these materials (as a percentage of the weight of WEEE) concern:
- Iron – Steel 47.9%
- Plastic 20.6%
- Copper 7%
- Glass 5.4%
- Aluminum 4.7%
- Circuit boards 3.1%
- Balance 11.3%