Europe has gradually shifted its mindset to embrace recycling as evidenced by the increased recycling rates across all waste streams in the last decade. The recycling rate of e-waste for example was 28% in 2010 but increased to 41% in 2016. In December 2017, a new EU Waste Framework Directive was established setting ambitious targets for the collection and recycling of household waste including a common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste and 75% of packaging waste by 2030.
In todays linear economy, many products at our disposal break down too quickly, cannot easily be reused, repaired or recycled and too many are made for single use only. It’s an economy that significantly depletes resources, with high emissions and waste generation and has severe impacts on our ecosystem and natural resources. According to Hans Bruyninckx, European Environment Agency (EEA) Executive Director “Europe’s environment is at a tipping point. We have a narrow window of opportunity in the next decade to scale up measures to protect nature, lessen the impacts of climate change and radically reduce our consumption of natural resources.”
A new product or device is launched, and we need to have it. When we buy it, we get rid of the old version. That cycle of consumption has made EEE (Electrical and electronic equipment) waste the world’s fastest-growing waste stream. The world produces 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year, worth an estimated €55 billion. That is expected to grow to 120 million tonnes by 2050 based on current levels. Currently, only 20% of electronics are recycled, the remaining 40 million tonnes are either placed in landfill, incinerated or illegally traded. The largest global producer of e-waste is the USA, with China following closely behind. The two countries combined are responsible for around 32% of global electronic waste. In Europe we do somewhat better – while e-waste is growing by 2% year on year, we do recycle up to 40%.
2020- the year everything changed as we knew it. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken an appalling toll on humanity, forever changing the lives of those caught within its menacing grasp. As the days spent in our homes became indistinguishable, outside huge shifts in human consciousness were taking place. The dexterity of humans to change their social behaviour became apparent. On news networks every day we saw pictures of deserted city centres around the world, images that would have been inconceivable just a few months ago. The after-effects of the pandemic on human life was catastrophic, the economic effects staggering. Our natural environment thrived.