Every year, 10 million metric tons of electronic waste are generated in the EU, and the number is expected to jump to 12 million metric tons by 2020. Though the EU has had e-waste laws since 2003, yesterday, the laws got tougher.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive was the world’s first comprehensive legislation to make manufacturers responsible for recovering old computers, televisions, phones and other electronics when consumers wanted to throw them out. Electronics companies had to pay to support collection and recycling. But since the law was enacted, it has been criticized as recycling and reuse rates have stayed low. It’s still not uncommon for old electronics to be illegally exported to developing countries.

The problems with e-waste are serious: electronics parts can contain toxic materials that pollute soil and water, having severe effects on health and the environment. As electronics are discarded more frequently, the challenge has become even bigger. Mobile phones now have an average lifespan of only two years in developed countries.

Now, the updated version of WEEE has stricter requirements: EU member states will be required to collect 45 percent of electronics by 2016, and by 2019, they will have to collect 65 percent of electronics sold or 85 percent of all electronic waste. The law has also been expanded to include all types of e-waste, rather than just certain categories. It’s designed to make it easier for businesses and consumers to recycle, and also makes penalties greater for manufacturers evading the law.

Main photo credit: curtis palmer/Flickr