The UK has done a good job so far on WEEE recycling - although there is still plenty of room for improvement. Sean Feeney, chief executive of EnvironCom, looks at the WEEE Directive Recast.
Household collections of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) are on the up, and new technologies that allow more sophisticated methods of handling unwanted waste are moving the industry in the right direction. It is an industry that has started to grow up.
But the sector is now faced with the WEEE Directive Recast, which provides an exciting opportunity to make further developments and improvements to the way industry perceives and manages WEEE.
Thanks to the prospect of more WEEE items coming through the system as a result of higher targets and increased public awareness, the WEEE Recast should provide the impetus we need to grow the industry and take it to the next level of maturity.
This maturity is key to achieving targets and to the long-term stability of the industry in terms of encouraging investment, building new infrastructure and developing new technologies.
If the WEEE sector is to grow, all parties need to work more closely together to ensure that not only are we more commercially attractive, but we also do the right thing for the environment.
That means compliance schemes, councils, recyclers and waste management operators all need to develop a joined-up approach across the supply chain to create a virtuous recycling circle.
The implementation of the WEEE Recast in the UK should give local authorities the opportunity to engage more with their communities to drive up volumes and do more to support social enterprise, such as helping the smaller charities which are increasingly relying on WEEE for financial help.
But rather than the WEEE Directive Recast being a burden for councils, this should present an opportunity for them to ensure that their compliance schemes play a greater role in the process; work with the supply chain to ensure communities are fully engaged in the process; help waste management operators to secure maximum value from WEEE; and encourage recyclers to develop the technology and expertise.
We all need to start looking more creatively at WEEE. How can we get more from the community? How can we educate people on the environmental and economic benefits of recycling? Where is our WEEE going and what is happening to it when it gets there? How can we ensure that we hit our targets and work towards a circular economy?
That means, for example, reusing more WEEE in order to give it another lease of life, then doing our best to recycle whatever is left. EnvironCom is already striving to achieve this because it recognises that this ‘reuse and recycle’ model is beneficial.
For example, reusing a product is far better for the environment than recycling it because it uses as much as 20 times less energy. Understandably, the focus from consumers and the Government is to increase reuse. It is a credible and logical way to deal with WEEE, and the implementation of the WEEE Directive Recast in the UK should fully support this.
So rather than considering the recast as being a burden on our wider industry, every aspect of the supply chain needs to fully embrace the opportunity it presents and work together as one. It is time to take WEEE recycling to the next level.