E-waste in the EU: facts and figures (infographic)

E-waste is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU and less than 40% is recycled. Check out the facts and figures in our infographic.

Electronic devices and electrical equipment define modern life. From washing machines and vacuum cleaners to smartphones and computers, it is hard to imagine life without them. But the waste they generate has become an obstacle to EU efforts to reduce its ecological footprint.

Read more to find out how the EU is tackling e-waste in its move towards a circular economy by 2050.

What is e-waste?

Electronic and electrical waste, or e-waste, covers a variety of different products that are thrown away after use.

These include:

  • Large household appliances, such as washing machines and electric stoves
  • IT and telecommunications equipment (laptops, printers)
  • Consumer equipment (video cameras, fluorescent lamps) and photovoltaic panels
  • Small household appliances (vacuum cleaners, toasters)
  • Other categories, such as electrical tools and medical devices
Infographic showing the kilograms of electronic equipment collected per inhabitant in each EU country.
Infographic: find out how many kilos of electronic equipment have been collected per inhabitant in each EU country

The amount of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the EU rose from 7.6 million tonnes in 2012 to 13.5 million tonnes in 2021. The total collected electrical and electronic equipment increased from 3.0 million tonnes in 2012 to 4.9 million tonnes in 2021.

Recycling practices vary among EU countries. In 2021, Austria topped the EU countries in electronic waste collection, with an average of 15.46 kilos per inhabitant. In 2021, 11 kilos of electrical and electronic equipment waste were collected per inhabitant in the EU on average.

Why do we need to recycle electronic and electrical waste?

Discarded electronic and electrical equipment contains potentially harmful materials that pollute the environment and increase the risks for people involved in recycling e-waste. To counter this problem, the EU has passed legislation to prevent the use of certain chemicals, like lead.

Many rare minerals that are needed in modern technology come from countries that do not respect human rights. To avoid inadvertently supporting armed conflict and human rights abuses, MEPs have adopted rules requiring European importers of rare earth minerals to carry out background checks on their suppliers.

What is the EU doing do reduce e-waste?

In March 2020, the European Commission presented a new  circular economy action plan that has as one of its priorities the reduction of electronic and electrical waste. The proposal specifically outlined immediate goals like creating the right to repair and improving reusability in general, the introduction of a common charger and establishing a rewards system to encourage recycling electronics.

USB Type-C will become the common charger for most electronic devices in the EU by the end of 2024. Laptops will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port by 28 April 2026.

In March 2023, the Commission presented a new proposal to promote repairing and reusing goods. Within the legal guarantee It would require sellers to repair products unless it is cheaper to replace them. Beyond the guarantee, it would provide rights to make repairs easier and cheaper.

The EU has adopted rules on the collection, treatment and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment in order to tackle the issue of the growing amount of electronic waste.

In February 2023, the Commission put forward a proposal for an update of the directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment to implement a ruling of the European Court of Justice concerning the scope of obligations of producers of photovoltaic panels.

Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on the update in November 2023. They also agreed that by 2026 the Commission should review the directive and, if necessary, suggest further changes along with a comprehensive evaluation of its impact on society and the environment.

MEPs will vote on the agreement in early February.

Parliament’s position

In February 2021, the Parliament adopted a resolution on the new circular economy action plan demanding additional measures to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050, including tighter recycling rules and binding targets for materials use and consumption by 2030.

In the field of e-waste, MEPs want the EU to promote longer product life through reusability and reparability.

Read more about the circular economy and waste