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  • How will higher WEEE targets be met?

    01st Apr 2019

    In March 2019, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) released the  household waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection targets for 2019.

     

    These targets determine the quantity of WEEE household EEE producers must fund, based on their market share. The proposed overall UK WEEE collection target for 2019 is 550,577 tonnes – over 57,000 tonnes higher than the total amount of household WEEE collected and reported in 2018.

     

    2018 marked the second year that collection has missed targets so this looks to be very challenging. There are many factors affecting the life flow of an EEE product through to its final disposal, and therefore increasing the target does not automatically lead to an increase in the amount of WEEE collected.

     

    In order to achieve these higher targets, allow industry to plan and assist Government in developing effective future policy implementation, it is important that we fully understand what happens to an EEE product during its working life through to when it will become available for recycling.

     

    This was the rationale behind REPIC’s work with the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University in 2017/18, which sought to better understand the flow of EEE products through society, and in doing so provide a more robust basis for identifying future WEEE arisings and trends.

     

    Outside influences

     

    Products do not always appear in the waste stream as they were put on the market. All of the accessories may not actually be disposed of with the product at the end of its life, for example, a vacuum cleaner with hoses and attachments. Whilst one product unit is placed on the market, and the same product may ultimately arise as WEEE, the weight of the product in each situation could be quite different.

     

    Commodity prices have an impact on what comes back into the system for recycling. When it comes to large WEEE items such as cooling appliances the return rates are high. The stringent treatment requirements make them costly to recycle and therefore unattractive to others outside the PCS system. However, when copper prices are high, this can attract illegal activity - missing or stolen parts contribute to lower weights when WEEE arrives for recycling, which affects collection rates.

     

    Similarly, when ferrous prices are high, this makes collection of scrap more attractive, which also impacts on the amount of large household appliances going through PCSs.

     

    When it comes to small WEEE there is an assumption that consumers may be disposing of items in their residual waste bin, however there is insufficient data to accurately quantify this. There is encouraging anecdotal evidence that there is a lot of reuse of some products, and we also know valuable items are being sold on resale sites, therefore not being counted in the WEEE system.

     

    There are other economic and market drivers affecting trends in products sales and residence times, such as the number of households, wealth distribution, consumer confidence, disposable income, exports, energy costs and tariffs.

     

    The tech effect

     

    Finally, innovations in technology can also have an impact on WEEE collected. For example, the move away from heavy CRTs in TVs with lighter flat screens had a significant impact on WEEE collected, so much so that it materially affected the UK overall WEEE return trends.

     

    Other technological advancements have led to product convergence and component miniaturisation. We continue to see light-weighting of products – which will affect future WEEE arisings - and multifunctionality such as smart phones. We also have the introduction of smart technology in household appliances so products have more connectivity. This could mean consumers may want to upgrade products more quickly, or they may want to hold on to them for longer due to data security concerns.

     

    Looking to the future

     

    We have a higher target to achieve, and it is important that as an industry we address this positively. It is encouraging that DEFRA plans to run a communications campaign to influence behavioural change, and is looking to move forward with research on the sources and end destinations for WEEE to help meet the higher target.

     

    We need to improve our understanding of how products move through the economy, and consequently how much WEEE will be generated and is available in the UK for recycling.

     

    The outcome will enable targeted practical activity, to quantify desirable and legitimate alternative end of life product flows, and ultimately help us as an industry to innovate and provide solutions for managing WEEE in the future.

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