Each year the UK produces 1.4 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), a figure that is forecast to grow with the increased integration of technology into everyday life.
A third of this WEEE is being sent to landfill and only 7% is being reused – a percentage that could be much higher with the implementation of a business model that recognises WEEE as a valuable resource.
A global shift towards a cyclical strategy is necessary. Recognising the need for change and adapting a business model that incorporates WEEE reuse may not only be profitable but will also restore items that can then be entered back into the UK economy.
There is great potential for businesses to grow into this area, but it needs to be done correctly, especially because there are still issues within the trade such as illegal exports of WEEE goods. Further measures need to be imposed to crack down on this and to ensure that exports are suitably packaged and correctly identified.
Another issue affecting the industry’s growth is the mistreatment of WEEE during the collection and processing stages. Poor preparation when transporting WEEE can damage the delicate machinery inside the electronics, rendering it unsuitable for reuse. This is most likely because the electronics are seen as a waste stream rather than repairable products.
It is disappointing that this problem is still prevalent within the industry because such damage can be averted easily. For example at Enviro Waste, we have adapted our waste vans with segregated compartments for electronics and have trained our removal team to correctly handle these devices. This significantly reduces the damage that occurs during transport from waste site to repair shop.
Extending product lifecycles
Our passion lies in extending the lifecycle of products and we have restructured our business model with this in mind. We have developed a repair-and-refurbish centre to ensure we are well-equipped to store WEEE, and have recruited a team of technicians to repair the electronics back to working use.
We have invested time in researching and setting up this service because we believe it is the future. It is not an option to avoid the change to a circular economy, especially for businesses within the waste sector.
Until this outdated ‘take, make and dispose’ approach has been replaced with a circular structure focused on efficiency, there will still be an excess of WEEE present. This should be seen as a major opportunity for smaller businesses to capitalise on as a revenue stream, while simultaneously helping to reduce the 500,000 tonnes of WEEE going to landfills each year.
We believe this adaptation will be harder for larger waste companies to follow because they will struggle to be as flexible as their smaller counterparts in adapting to the needs of the market. It is the newer, smaller companies entering the market that will be able to demonstrate creativity to improve the way we perceive and treat WEEE in the UK.
But this circular model for WEEE is not limited solely to waste companies. A report published by technology market researcher BCC Research found that more than 50% of businesses are not recycling their WEEE. So businesses from outside the waste sector, such as electronics manufacturers, could also tap into this area by using a similar maintenance, remanufacture and redistribution strategy and work to reduce this growing issue.
James Rubin is managing director at Enviro Waste, a waste removal company in London specialising in office clearance and house clearance projects