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Comment: WEEE success depends on throwaway solution

There are very few people in the recycling industry that would disagree that kerbside collections have made a massive difference to boosting recycling rates.

When we live in an increasingly busy world, a couple of minutes spent putting a bag or box onto the kerbside is a chore that many of us are happy to do. Although, even this for some people, is still perceived as too much effort.

So why will people take their Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) to the civic amenity (CA) site?

This week has seen a debate beginning between the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee (LARAC) and bodies such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the Recycling Electrical Producers' Industry Consortium (REPIC) about how to update facilities at civic amenity sites. These will need to be upgraded to ensure that producers provide a free collection service under the WEEE directive for no longer needed electrical goods.

But all of these bodies are concerned that there will not be enough CA sites of sufficient quality to take in the expected flood of WEEE goods.

This is obviously an important consideration. Local authorities are rightly concerned that they will not be able to take in all of these goods because they do not have the containers and transport facilities, never mind the health and safety implications, of taking in used electrical goods. And it is in the interests of bodies like BRC and REPIC to ensure that they can.

But is this slightly missing the point?

Many members of the public are happy to use CA sites when they need to dispose of large items or things like garden waste.

But when their electric toothbrush breaks down, are they really going to climb in the car and take it to the CA site or are they going to put it in the bin and send it to landfill?

My guess is that it will be straight into the bin.

One solution could be that small electrical items, such as electric toothbrushes, MP3 players, hairdryers and electric toys could be part of a kerbside collection scheme. They are placed in the recycling bag or box and sorted at the Materials Recycling Facility. Okay, some of these items contain highly toxic chemicals that could leak in the bag, but I am sure there is a simple solution to this. Some charities seem to manage to do it with separate printer cartridge recycling bags.

Then the producers could collect them for free (maybe even contribute to the kerbside collection costs) and local authorities could also have a few extra tonnes on their recycling rate figures.

Some of the big stores have promised to have in-store take back schemes, which is great. But problems still need to be resolved in how to encourage people to remember to bring their goods back when they are buying a new item, what happens to the used product when people buy something on a whim and what about internet purchases?

And what happens when the easy option is to put it in the bin?

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