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E-waste flows: We buy more, lighter and short-lived products

United Nations University study documents over 80 per cent of Dutch e-waste flows. The forthcoming EU collection objective for discarded electrical and electronic (EEE) equipment and energy saving lamps (e-waste) requires many more insights in the fate of electronic products. All EU countries will need to collect 65 per cent of the average weight of equipment and lamps sold annually the three previous years. However, none of these countries know the amount of products exported or the amount of e-waste ending up in the waste bin.

Funded by Wecycle and ICT Milieu and based on an extended ‘all-actors-involved’ cooperation, 80 per cent of the Dutch waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) flows are now documented and validated and a fair understanding of the remaining 20 per cent is derived.


The research included high quality information sets regarding:

  • EEE historically placed on the market from the compliance schemes Wecycle, ICT Milieu and Statistics Netherlands;

  • WEEE residence times and stocks in households and businesses from possession studies; 

  • A high number of sorting analyses of WEEE in residual waste; 

  • Extensive field work at regional and national recyclers as well as at municipal collection points.


Combined with sophisticated scientific modelling, the outcome is a highly detailed and more accurate view on the whereabouts of the EEE and WEEE flows in the Netherlands:

  1. The amount of EEE put on market (POM) in 2010 is 26.5 kg per inhabitant (kg/inh).

  2. From this, partly due to a more extended WEEE scope: 4.5 kg/inh was not included previously in the national POM data.

  3. Together with Statistics NL, a dedicated and transferable method is developed for analyzing a country’s POM independently.

  4. The amount of WEEE Generated including used EEE is 23.7 kg/inh; from this 2.7 kg/inh is exported, primarily as whole appliances and cannot be collected in the Netherlands.

  5. The ratio of WEEE POM  will stay above the long term trend from the past of around 70-80%. This is due to lighter consumer electronics (CE) and information technology (IT) products and much lighter flat panel displays; decreasing residence times and many more pieces sold, specifically for small appliances.

  6. The compliance schemes flow to recycling is 7.5 kg/inh. 

  7. The total complementary recycling flow is in the same order of magnitude as the compliance schemes flow at 6.6 kg/inh.

  8. In total 2.3 kg/inh mainly small appliances and consumer lamp fitting, ends up in residual waste.

  9. Around 4.6 kg/inh remains not (yet) documented. Roughly half of this is structurally and permanently difficult to identify due to fractions not being recognizable as WEEE (derived) and dismantling of parts and (non-metal) fractions. The other half can in theory be documented e.g. by better sampling or separation beforehand of WEEE in pre-shredder materials.

Based on this research, with a unprecedented level of detail for the Netherlands, many important lessons can and will be drawn with regard to the practical implementation of the chosen 65 per cent put on market and the alternative 85 per cent of WEEE Generated target in the new WEEE Directive, but also more importantly: how these collection amounts can be improved. 

Furthermore, the thorough Dutch approach is an important step in the long-term strategy of the “Solving the E-waste Problem” Initiative’s (StEP) Annual Dynamic Digital Reporting on the global Ewaste StatuS (ADDRESS) project, a project aiming to quantify e-waste volumes worldwide. Determining national e-waste volumes will allow other countries and regions to take advantage of the lessons learned and to make prudent use of the tools and methodology developed. Subsequent e-waste quantification work has already started in Belgium and one other EU country and is in acquisition stages in two other countries.

The UNU-58 classification and international good codes database related to EEE will be made available for review and disseminated in a StEP Green Paper, a StEP Initiative scientific publication series. Moreover, a quantification strategy on exports and WEEE flows is being developed and will be applied within the context of a grant agreement between the United Nations University (UNU) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) with scientific support from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER).


Dr. Jaco Huisman


The Dutch Wee Flows - Full report

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