Philip Reynolds takes a deeper look into what the recommendations from the EIA report into illegal WEEE exports to africa mean for industry.
Last week’s Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report into illegal waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) exports to Africa, and the accompanying BBC Panorama exposé, asked some searching questions of the Government’s approach to producer compliance schemes (PCSs) - and of the recycling industry too.
The report held undercover meetings with recycling firms, WEEE brokers and even tracked deliberately broken TVs from two household waste recycling centres to Africa.
In its recommendations, the report called for a full Government review of PCSs to reduce their number, centralising the right to award PCS contracts and even barring export activities of those companies investigated by the authorities for suspected illegal trade in WEEE. But do these recommendations go far enough, and what do they mean for the waste industry?
Overton Recycling managing director Dean Overton told MRW: “There is [currently] no accountability, and the problem is that councils have delegated this all to the PCSs. Councils are there to work on behalf of rate payers - they should be coming along to our sites and making sure that their waste ends up where we say it is going to end up.
“Some of the recommendations were a little naïve. That’s not a criticism - I think [the EIA] has done a tremendous amount of work - but the reality is I don’t know how they will be carried out. They recommended cutting the number of PCSs - how would you do that?”
SWEEEP contracts manager Justin Greenaway said: “The UK is making good progress at clamping down on exporting of waste but Environment Agency funding must be ringfenced and sufficient to allow this to happen.
“We all have responsibilities as consumers and businesses in making sure our waste is correctly recycled. The developing world is a huge expanding market for new and quality refurbished electrical goods, but if ever there was a continent that would benefit from producer responsibility then it would be Africa.”
Compliance scheme Repic chief executive Dr Philip Morton told MRW that the problem of responsibility lies in the tradable evidence notes issued by approved, authorised treatment facilities (AATF) and the obligation of PCSs to finance the same percentage of WEEE leaving the market as the total amount its members add.
He said: “AATFs issue an evidence note which says the WEEE will be properly recycled. When the system started in mid-2007, PCSs thought ‘I’ve got a tiny fraction of the percentage of the market - I’ll get as much WEEE as I can because it always adds up to 100%. So if they’ve got it, someone else will have to buy it’. That created an imbalanced system with a lot of trading or transfer of these evidence notes.
“The producer community that is financing this, and all those schemes which transfer and trade evidence, have got little knowledge or influence over the audit trail.”
Morton added that there was a further complication arising from the fact that AATFs are able to trade WEEE between them. He said: “A treatment facility is required to issue notice of treatment on receipt [of WEEE]. So,100 tonnes of TVs could arrive at an AATF and it issues an evidence note. It can subsequently be sold and transferred to other schemes. That first facility issued evidence into the system but does not necessarily end up being the one that treats it.
“All of the recommendations [in the EIA report] are absolutely sound. The only confusion is the suggestion that you should strike a compliance scheme if it is found to have been shipping illegally. Any compliance scheme, local authority or any of the major waste management companies could be touched by illegal export activity because they [only] have a duty of care to audit the process as far as they can, and they do.
“The solution is for the collectors of WEEE to partner directly with the PCS which needs that WEEE for its members, which will then audit the process and finance the system. That won’t stop [illegal export], but it will certainly clamp down on it.”