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EU aiming high for “Green new deal”


Waste prevention, including harder restrictions on e-waste, will be a top priority for the European Commission in the coming four years.

The European Commission’s newly published European Green Deal vows to prioritize policies aimed at avoiding waste. These include making as many products as possible more easily repairable and reusable by design.

The ambitious document outlines future policy priorities, meant to help Europe reach carbon neutrality by 2050. This year, 2020, the Commission will launch its second Circular Economy Action Plan and a new Ecodesign Working Plan. Among other things, these include laws making our smartphones and laptops last longer.

Met by positive reactions

“It’s fantastic to see waste prevention taken seriously,” said Piotr Barczak, a policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Barczak welcomed the promise by the Commission to set up targets for the reduction of waste, particularly packaging, which will need to be reusable or recyclable by 2030. The Right to Repair movement is mentioned in the strategy.

“Repair is essential to avoid waste and reduce the increasing emissions linked to manufacturing,” Jean-Pierre Schweitzer, another policy officer at the EEB concluded.

Longer life span, shorter ownership

An interesting aspect of prolonging the life span of electronic products is that consumers tend to trade in their e-products more and more frequent. Many consumers want “the latest”, if they can afford it. So, the trend is that electronic products last longer but they tend to have more owners before finally being retired.

Second hand saves CO2


The total trade on the dominating market for second hand products in Sweden,, is estimated to have saved 800 000 tons CO2 during 2019. This is equivalent to the CO2-production from Stockholm’s total road traffic during the same period.

Electric car batteries - a problem


The environmental effects of producing lithium-ion batteries have improved, but we still have a long way to go. And the electric car revolution poses a gigantic problem.

With the number of electric cars expected to explode, there will be many problems with producing and taking care of large car batteries with as environmentally safe as possible. This problem  is addressed in a new report from Swedish Environmental Research Institute, IVL.

– The number of electric cars is expected to increase rapidly in the years to come. If we are to reduce climate impact, battery production must be energy efficient and utilize as little fossil electricity as possible, says Lisbeth Dahllöf, researcher at IVL.

Improved battery production

There’s been a positive development in the production of lithium-ion batteries. The report show that production on average emits somewhere between 61-106 kilos of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour battery capacity produced. This estimate is a significant decrease compared to the 150-200 kilos of carbon dioxide per kWh only two years ago.

– Battery factories have been scaled up and are running at full capacity, which makes them more efficient per unit produced, says Erik Emilsson, researcher at IVL.

In Europe cobalt, nickel and copper are currently recycled from old batteries with relatively high efficiency. In contrast there is little large-scale recycling of lithium due to high recycling costs and relatively low raw material prices.

New life for bus batteries

But before the large batteries are finally recycled, it’s a great thing to put them to work as much as possible. A fine exampel is a project in Sweden, where retired batteries from Volvo buses are put to use in houses.

– Connecting solar cells with second hand batteries is a way for us to push the development, says Agneta Kores, CEO Stena Fastigheter Göteborg.

The old bus batteries are simply powered with energy from solar cells mounted on the roof of housing buildings in Gothenburg. Then, the batteries are used to provide the area with electricity.

Hazardous waste export now banned in Europe


In December 2019 the world saw a big breakthrough in the work to stop illegal exports of e-scrap and other kinds of hazardous waste.

Remember December 5, 2019. It was the day when exporting hazardous waste became illegal in Europe. Formally, it is an amendment (Article 4a) to the so called Basel Convention, already ratified by as many as 98 countries, including all member states of the European Union, OECD and Liechtenstein.

“The Ban Amendment is the world’s foremost legal landmark for global environmental justice. It boldly legislates against a free-trade in environmental costs and harm,” said Jim Puckett at the Basel Action Network (BAN).

The Basel Convention’s ban on exporting hazardous waste is still to be ratified by many larger countries, like the United States, Russia and India. Still, it is an important milestone in the work to stop rich countries from dumping their waste on poor countries. And almost one hundred countries have signed it already.

More and more countries say “no thanks”

It is also reported that Kenya, in West Africa, is planning a ban on imports of used electronics, starting in 2020. According to a government official the import prohibition is part of upcoming extended producer responsibility regulations in the country.

But banning the trade is not always enough, since it is so profitable. Thailand, for example, banned the import of foreign e-waste already in 2018. Yet new factories are opening across the country, where many tons of e-waste are processed.

The conditions under which old computers are recycled in Thailand are documented in a recent feature for New York Times.

“Crouched on the ground in a dimly lit factory, the women picked through the discarded innards of the modern world: batteries, circuit boards and bundles of wires.”

The text describes workers breaking the scrap with hammers and raw hands.

“As they toiled, smoke spewed over nearby villages and farms. Residents have no idea what is in the smoke: plastic, metal, who knows? All they know is that it stinks and they feel sick.”

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