Eight EU countries - including the UK - have been given a final warning to introduce laws to deal with electronic waste or face action in the European Court of Justice, the European Commission said Monday.

The UK joins France, Italy, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Malta and Poland on the miscreants list.

The Commission, which is responsible for enforcing compliance with environmental legislation in the 25 state bloc, said it had sent final warnings to the eight countries, ordering them to adopt the directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment, known as the WEEE directive, into their national legislation. Otherwise, the Commission will bring the cases before the European Court of Justice, which could impose fines on the countries if they fail to comply.

The growing ewaste problem

Disposing of waste electrical equipment, including PCs and telecommunications devices, is one of the fastest growing waste problems in Europe. Many of the common components of such devices contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, and other substances that are dangerous to the health of humans and other animals and can contaminate water supplies or the air if not properly disposed of.

The share of electrical and electronic waste in the overall amount of waste produced has been growing by 3 per cent to 5 per cent, faster than any other source of waste. At the moment, 90 per cent of WEEE waste ends up in landfills or is incinerated without being treated so the pollutants can enter air, water and soil.

Reuse and recycle

The WEEE directive aims to reduce the amount of waste electrical and electronic appliances being produced by ensuring that the highest possible number of used devices are recycled, reused or recovered.

By the middle of August, EU member states are meant to have set up collection systems for WEEE waste that allow consumers to hand in their old devices when they buy new ones. Collection points are also meant to allow people to dispose of old equipment free of charge.

By December 2006, member states are meant to ensure that they collect four kilograms of WEEE waste per inhabitant per year. At present, it is estimated that the average EU citizen produces 17 to 20 kilograms a year.