The landscape of electrical recycling in Ireland has completely changed since WEEE Ireland was established by the producers of electrical appliances in 2005.
We have all moved from putting e-waste and batteries into our rubbish bins to automatically taking it back for recycling to retailers, recycling centres or weekend collection events.
Producer responsibility initiatives (PRIs) for different material streams have evolved in the Republic of Ireland during the past 10 years in line with EU thematic strategies for waste and directives alongside national waste policy, the most recent of which, A Resource Opportunity was published in 2012.
In 2005, a two-scheme PRI system for WEEE and batteries was established in Ireland, both required to operate on a not-forprofit basis. WEEE Ireland is the majority scheme in both systems, collecting from more than 75% of the population in its designated collection area.
Mandatory handover of WEEE to compliance schemes from retailers and council civic amenity sites is required under the 2014 WEEE Regulations. Since 2005, retailers have been required to take back WEEE on a like-for-like basis in-store and on delivery to customers, and must accept back waste batteries similar to those they supply, with no obligation to purchase on the consumer.
There are no thresholds, and all producers of EEE and batteries on to the Irish market are required to register and report their quantities via the WEEE Register Society. This is a non-governmental organisation which includes trade associations and ex-industry individuals on its committee of management, as well as Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Environmental Protection Agency personnel who attend as observers.
2014 saw the introduction of WEEE Regulations in Ireland following publication of the 2012 recast WEEE Directive. These regulations included collection and recycling targets, as well as making it mandatory for WEEE to be recycled to new EU standards such as the WEEELabex Treatment Standard. Ireland is only one of two countries in Europe that made this a mandatory requirement.
The new regulations also saw the country continue with its successful policy of visible environmental management costs (vEMCs) in certain product categories. As well as creating awareness among customers of WEEE recycling, the vEMCs help to unite stakeholders in achieving a common goal: to increase the takeback of WEEE and ensure that the waste is treated to EU standards.
WEEE Ireland’s proposal to link the advertising of WEEE recycling with the promotional campaigns of electrical retailers led to the ‘We’ll Take It Back’ programme. In its first year, this resulted in 20% more WEEE being collected by retailers compared with previous years.
With funding raised from vEMCs, WEEE Ireland is now able to contribute toward the additional investment for councils to improve collection facilities and enforcement as metal theft and WEEE leakage remain serious issues.
Additional funding has been provided by the vEMC income to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s additional enforcement requirements and to assist future research and development into WEEE recycling and recovery.
Ireland faces a significant environmental challenge to achieve the 45% take-back target set by the EU for the recovery and recycling of waste portable batteries in 2016. WEEE Ireland represents 89% of the total battery market (>70% of the portable battery sector) and has invested €6m (£4.4m) in the past six years in building a collection infrastructure.
Since the introduction of the Battery Regulations, WEEE Ireland has increased the take-back rate from 3% in 2007 to 33% in 2014, acknowledging that to reach 45% will be challenging. So WEEE Ireland has implemented a 10-point plan for collecting portable batteries involving a €2.5m investment on behalf of its members to continue to meet their producer responsibilities over the next two years.
Leo Donovan is chief executive of WEEE Ireland