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DTI calls for WEEE centre of excellence

The UK Government has been told to consider setting up a Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment centre of excellence to encourage innovative research and development.

This was the message from a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) report which also suggested using such a site as a forum for teaching future generations, developing a UK demonstration plant based on the Japanese template and furthering Anglo-Japanese relations.

After a Global Watch Mission to the far east, the DTI found how Japanese companies had been preparing for its regulations from as early as 1999, with the country not as cost-driven and prepared to over-invest if necessary to get things right.

The UK and Malta are so far the only European countries not to have implemented the legislation, which is in stark contrast to Japan, a country which has consistently beaten its own targets for recycling electronic consumer goods.

The delegation comprised a cross-section of UK industry, including representatives of the Resource Efficiency Knowledge Transfer Network (REKTN), whose mission it is to minimise waste by promoting collaboration between industry and academia.

REKTN operations director Arnold Black said: We went to Japan and discovered that the whole programme of recycling was very simplified. The 80/20 rule was cleverly applied by the Japanese companies, with 80% of the recycling target being covered from just four different types of electronic appliances: washing machines, TVs, refrigerators and air conditioners.

Black believes differences are nothing to do with innovation, but merely because the Japanese are better organised and efficient.

But there are also cultural barriers to overcome. For example, in Japan the consumer pays a premium on goods to cover disposal and recycling costs while a web-based national audit trail keeps track of products. It is believed such a system would be difficult to replicate here with consumers basing purchases on price rather than brand loyalty.

The delegation visited companies such as Mitsubishi Electric, Toshiba, Hitachi and Panasonic, finding that TVs could be disassembled in nine minutes, fridges in 12 and air conditioners in 24 minutes.

There was nothing particularly novel or innovative about what these companies were doing in their recycling process. However, what was impressive was their organisation and how efficient their de-manufacturing processes were, which were predominantly manual, added Black.

The report recommended the DTI brings in simple regulations as soon as possible, with a longer term view to amending and extending these as experience is gained.

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