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A second chance for WEEE

AT A GLANCE:

How Overton’s Smart Seconds business is getting a second life out of business WEEE and a why published quality standard for WEEE reuse should boost the sector

The increase in VAT at the beginning of the year to 20% seems to have worked in favour for few, but for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycler Overton Recycling, the timing to open its reuse business venture Smart Seconds could not be better.

“The economic situation is going to force people’s hand, so when people realise they can get nearly new equipment at half the retail price it is a no-brainer,” says managing director Dean Overton.

“Initially, I think the main consumers will be the general public but we get a lot of equipment from offices, such as computers, which have hardly been used. They are items that would be perfect for a start-up company.”

When I speak to Overton, Smart Seconds has been trading properly for just a week and the demand for its low cost, second-hand electrical items among the public is certainly there. Video surveillance equipment, computers, telecommunications equipment and some peripherals, such as cables, are currently being sought after.

“My technology manager would often look at some of the equipment coming into our yard and say ‘This is next to new, I bet I could sell this and get at least half its retail price’ and he did,” explains Overton. From there, a trial selling reusable electric items on online auction sites proved highly successful, prompting Overton to take the idea of a new branch of the business seriously, and he set up a website for it.

The company works by collecting and packaging unwanted electrical items. All equipment for re-use undergoes tests to determine its functionality level, which includes the standard Portable Appliance Test (PAT) “to ensure there are no leaking fluids inside the product”, Overton explains. 

Reuse is sometimes more secure than recycling in terms of destroying data on hard drives

Equipment is then photographed and uploaded on to the website with a detailed description of its condition and level of functionality. “We sell it, so we’re responsible for it. Therefore, we give a three month warrantee on all items, so if the buyer finds the item is faulty within that time we replace it – no questions asked,” he adds. A spare version of the product kept at all times to ensure the item can be exchanged immediately.

Overton says the quality of the equipment is usually so high from businesses that the majority of it goes into reuse rather than recycling. The opposite is true of post-consumer WEEE.

“We’ve not gone into repairs although it is an area we’re looking at because that kind of service is no longer in this country. People tend to buy new rather than get their items fixed. With this kind of service, however, it would work better in a showroom,” he adds, hinting at plans to come.

News that a basic standard for WEEE reuse is to be published shortly is welcomed by Overton. The PAS141 is expected to help reduce the number of illegal exports of WEEE by distinguishing items that can be genuinely reused from those that are simply waste. It will ensure equipment complies with functionality and data security and SmartSeconds has registered its interest to be the first to use it.

Overton is confident SmartSeconds will already be conforming to these standards. “When we collect from customers we offer them the choice to have their hard disks in their computers wiped. Reuse is sometimes more secure than recycling in terms of destroying data on hard drives because all the data is completely and safely deleted.  When it is recycled, the drives might simply be crushed up, which is sometimes not enough.”

For Overton, Smart Seconds is not just the opportunity for a new business, it is an opportunity to offer the complete and the most environmentally friendly solution for WEEE by moving up the waste hierarchy from recycling to re-use. And with more firms finally recognising the commercial and environmental benefits of reuse, I have a feeling that this year Overton Recycling will not be the only well-established recycling company setting up a re-use branch.

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