CBS invents method to map European e-waste

How much electronic waste are we producing? Together with the United Nations University and commissioned by the European Union (EU), Statistics Netherlands (CBS) has designed new methodology to measure e-waste quantities. It can be used to verify compliance with the EU Directive on recycling of e-waste; at the same time, the CBS method is also suitable for the measurement of other waste flows.

Stricter requirements

E-waste or waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), e.g. television sets, mobile phones and toasters, contain valuable as well as harmful materials. Proper recycling and disposal of this waste is therefore very important to members of the European community. The new reinforced EU Directive stipulates that countries must meet the following requirement by the end of 2018: 65 percent of all equipment put on the market, or 85 percent of the total amount of e-waste must be collected. But how can this be calculated? CBS statistical researcher Kees Baldé: ‘We have developed a method to estimate this, based on existing statistical concepts and existing data.’


So far, the Netherlands and most other EU members are keeping records of companies reporting the volume of electrical and electronic equipment they sell. Baldé: ‘Even so, the EU wants to be able to estimate volumes in a different way. There has to be an official data point to check existing registrations.’ The new method is based on CBS statistics on production, imports and exports. ‘We use these data to calculate how much equipment is put on the market’, Vincent van Straalen explains, also a statistical researcher. ‘We merely look at the numbers of appliances and devices, not at which company produces them. Then we estimate the amount of waste based on the expected life span of the products.’ This method is transparent: everyone can see the components of the production and waste statistics. The script is based on Eurostat data so all EU countries can apply it directly.

Open source

In February 2017, the EU will decide whether the CBS method will be used as the standard method for Europe. Statistical researcher Albert-Jan Roskam: ‘The method is available as an open source. This means other countries will easily be able to adopt it, refine it, and adapt it to their own situation. And we hope they will, as this will improve the method.’ The method was written in the R programming language, which is widely used across Europe. Roskam: ‘R is on its way to becoming the lingua franca among statisticians.’

Circular economy

Meanwhile, CBS has calculated annually produced e-waste quantities for all European countries. But the method can be applied in a broader context. According to Van Straalen, the same formula can be applied to other goods. ’You could then project future quantities of waste in different parts of the Netherlands, for instance.’ The Dutch government wants to avoid unnecessary waste. ‘Our method is interesting in that context. Once you know where certain waste flows are created, you can promote reutilisation of those materials: the circular economy.’

To find out more about this new methodology, go to Waste over time script.