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Unreported business-to-business WEEE collections could hit UK target

Electrical equipment manufacturers are claimed to be at risk of missing WEEE collection targets because of collectors operating outside the compliance scheme system.

The recycling or refurbishment of electronics equipment no longer needed by busineses is commonplace and motivated by the high residual value of the units. But firms not involved in the compliance scheme system that reclaim such equipment from businesses are not obligated under the WEEE Directive to report them, according to a paper published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology.

This leaves compliance organisations affiliated to manufacturers with less WEEE to collect and report and poses a problem for a Government trying to meet collection targets under the directive.

The paper’s lead author, Richard Peagam, a consultant at resource sustainability consultancy LRS, says there was a risk that UK targets could be missed as a result of this competition between producer-affiliated schemes and those not involved.

Manufacturers such as Sony and HP are obligated under the WEEE Directive to have extended responsibility for their products (EPR) across their entire life-cycle. This means collection organised by WEEE compliance schemes is financed by producers, and end-of-life numbers are reported.

Peagam told MRW: “The impact on EPR is that if you are any company or Government with a collection target, you go in to collect WEEE and find that other companies are already in place collecting it.”

The WEEE Directive recast will see increased pressure placed on producers, who will have to reach a minimum collection target of 45% of that placed on the market from 2016 and 65% from 2019. To achieve the earlier target, the UK will need to move up from its current position by around 10 percentage points, according to the Environment Agency.

The paper states: “Producers may need to increase collection from business-to-business streams should there be insufficient volumes collected from B2C [business-to-consumer] electronics streams to achieve the target in the recast… Manufacturers could be forced to pay these collectors, or the users, to access WEEE to comply. Even then there is no guarantee targets could be met.”

The under-reporting of collections also causes a lack of transparency around material flows and treatments, which could threaten producers’ legal obligations to finance recycling, according to Peagam’s study.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing that these other companies are in place,” he said. “We are looking to promote the recollection of WEEE and it’s not yet clear how to deal with this situation.”

The paper concludes that for producers to fulfil their obligations, there needs to be a better understanding of the networks and operational practices of business IT WEEE collections to develop stronger business strategies and Government policies.

The study was published during consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on WEEE, which closes on 21 June. Implementation is due on 1 January 2014.

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