Computer Aid International has criticised the EU Environment Council for not making the most of an opportunity to improve the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive to effectively tackle the problem of growing e-waste.

Only one-third of WEEE collected in the EU is treated in compliance with legal requirements, according to a 2008 review of the directive. The rest of the e-waste goes to landfill or is subject to sub-standard treatment.

The European Parliament last month voted to agree on a collection rate target of 85 percent of the electrical and electronic equipment put on the market. It had been hoped that the EU Environment Council - where the UK is represented by Chris Huhn, secretary of state for energy and climate change, and Caroline Spelman, secretary of state of environment, food and rural affairs - would come to a similarly "bold" conclusion.

However, earlier this week, the EU Environment Council agreed to a collection target proposal of just 45 percent for four years after the new law comes into effect, up to 65 percent for the following four years. Computer Aid argues that the remaining proportion of uncollected waste will therefore continue to be sent to landfill.

“With the EU expected to generate some 12 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment per year by 2020, we are frustrated that the European Council is taking such a softly-softly approach in addressing the looming e-waste crisis,” said Haley Bowcock, Computer Aid’s Environmental Advocacy Officer.

“Last month, the European Parliament appeared to see the huge human and environmental health threats, as well as the huge resource potential inherent to e-waste, and agreed to some of the more ambitious proposals to fix the WEEE Directive. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the council.

“The council’s decision is an opportunity missed.”

Bowcock said other key proposals agreed at the council were more positive. These included the scope of the directive, so that six years after the new law comes into force, all electrical and electronic equipment will be covered by the directive in principle.

It was also agreed that there would be a five percent increase in recovery and recycling, effective three years after the new directive is implemented, with the reuse of whole appliances included in the recovery targets.

“We hope that negotiations between the Council and the European Parliament later this year yield a directive that is as bold in ambition as the exploding e-waste problem is serious,” Bowcock added.