As technology advances, waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is steadily increasing, especially small items. Often abandoned in cupboards and drawers, they are a valuable source of raw materials. Systematically collecting and recycling them is important both ecologically and economically: they contain precious metals, extracting which requires complex processing, and other materials that fall in the critical raw materials category. Improving the collection of this waste is therefore very important for the circular economy.

Electrical and electronic waste can be identified as all goods, components or materials that needed electricity for their operation during their life cycle. The WEEE category thus ranges from large household appliances such as fridges, ovens, hobs including industrial units, photovoltaic panels, to small items such as mobile phones, Bluetooth headsets and smart watches. 

According to the United Nations, 8 kg per person of WEEE will be generated globally in 2023, equivalent to approximately 61.3 million tonnes. Only 17.4% of this waste will be properly collected, treated and recycled globally. The remaining 50.6 million tonnes will be accumulated by individuals (in attics, garages and drawers), put in landfills, burned or illegally traded, and processed poorly.

Europe leads the world in electronic waste recycling, but only 54% of e-waste is officially collected and recycled (equivalent to 10.3 kg per inhabitant in 2020).

European targets require member states from 2019 to achieve "a minimum collection rate of 65% of all WEEE calculated on the basis of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market in the three preceding years, or alternatively, 85% of WEEE generated in the territory of that member state".

Lack of public awareness prevents countries from developing circular economies for electronic equipment. We need to focus more on communication and reform existing regulations to further incentivise WEEE collection and recycling.


In Italy, the management system for WEEE from households is multi-consortium. Regulated by Legislative Decree 49/2014, it is based on responsible action from a circular economy perspective of the various players involved: producers of electrical and electronic equipment, retailers and installers of EEE, municipalities and waste collection companies, citizens and certified treatment facilities. Within this system, the WEEE Coordination Centre is the point of reference that has been regulating the activities of all the players involved for the last 15 years.

Responsibility for the collection of electrical and electronic waste delivered free of charge by citizens and consumers is assigned by law to municipalities, which set up collection centres run independently or entrusted to waste collection companies and EEE retailers (Ministerial Decrees 65/2010 and 121/2016).

The entire WEEE recycling system is financed by EEE producers who require consumers to pay an eco-contribution when purchasing a new product.

According to the CDC's WEEE management report, WEEE collection in Italy was estimated at 535,180 tonnes in 2022 (comprising 376,882 tonnes from households and 158,298 tonnes from the commercial sector), an increase of 5% on the previous year, with a collection rate of 34.1%.

The most collected type of household waste is R1 - temperature exchange equipment using fluids (102,749 tonnes, down 0.7% from the previous year), followed by R2 - other large white goods (119,061 tonnes, -9.1%), R4 - small household appliances and other electronic technology (79,573 tonnes, +3%), the only category to register an increase versus 2021, R3 - TVs and monitors (72,541 tonnes, -5.9%), and R5 – lamps (2,958 tonnes, -15.6%).

Based on this data, the collection rate is far from the 65% target set by European Directive 2012/19/EU, and strategies are therefore needed to improve the collection of this type of waste.



Collecting WEEE of all types and sizes is both ecologically and economically important, as this waste contains precious metals and various substances whose extraction requires complex and expensive processing. Some materials are also included in the category of raw materials specified by the European Commission1.

For example, a smartphone can contain up to 50 different types of metals, each of which contributes to its small size, light weight and functionality. One tonne of smartphones contains around 100 times the amount of gold contained in one tonne of gold ore.

Raw materials are closely linked to clean technologies. They are irreplaceable in solar panels, wind turbines, electric vehicles and energy-efficient lighting. The European project ProSUM (Prospecting Secondary raw materials in the Urban mine and Mining waste) has identified 49 chemical elements found in WEEE, including 18 classified as critical raw materials, whose supply chain is subject to strategic risks and has recently become the subject of a specific European Commission action plan.

The less we recycle electronics, the more dependent we become on virgin materials that are difficult and dangerous to source and more prone to inflation. Electronic devices can also contain, and in high concentrations, toxic elements such as cadmium, mercury, arsenic, antimony and chlorofluorocarbons.


What Europe is doing to improve waste collection and management

In March 2020, the European Commission unveiled a new circular economy action plan (CEAP) that identifies the reduction of electronic and electrical waste as one of its priorities. It sets out immediate goals such as the "right to repair" and improved reuse in general, the introduction of a universal charger and the establishment of a reward system to encourage electronics recycling.

By the end of 2024, USB Type-C will become the standard charger for most electronic devices in the EU.

By 28 April 2026, laptops must be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

In 2020, the Commission also proposed a new regulation on batteries, which are a key technology in the transition to climate neutrality and a more circular economy.

In March 2023, the European Commission presented a new proposal to promote the "right to repair". This would ensure that the repair of products by sellers was included within the legal warranty, unless it is more cost-effective to replace them. It would also guarantee that repairs were easier and more affordable.


Knowledge for better collection: the WEEE Forum

The WEEE Forum is the world's largest multinational centre of competence as regards operational know-how concerning the management of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). It is a not-for-profit association of 50 WEEE producer responsibility organisations across the world and was founded in April 2002.

The WEEE Forum also enables its members to improve their operations and be known as promoters of the circular economy through the exchange of best practices and access to a knowledge base toolbox.

It has designed, developed and rolled out a series of platforms and software tools, enabling producer responsibility organisations to benchmark their operations and have access to key data and information.



1) Raw materials are fundamental to the European economy. They form a strong industrial base, producing a wide range of goods and applications used in everyday life and modern technologies. Reliable and unhindered access to certain raw materials is a growing concern within the EU and around the world. To address this challenge, the European Commission has created a list of critical raw materials (CRMs) for the EU, which is subject to regular review and updating. CRMs are raw materials of high economic importance for the EU, with a high risk of supply disruption.