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Real success on WEEE

The Republic of Ireland has recycled 196,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) since the implementation of the WEEE Directive in 2005. That is an average volume of 9kg per person collected each year, which is more than double the EU target under the WEEE Directive.

How has Ireland managed to achieve such success? WEEE Ireland chief executive Leo Donovan says that success has been achieved “quite simply from the right people working together to find solutions”. He says the system was set up well from the start, with all stake- holders working together to get the system operational in a cost-effective way as soon as possible in 2005.

“The local authorities took their responsibility very seriously and set up areas for WEEE recycling in all their civic amenity sites,” he says. “The retailers also played a huge role in the direct take-back of WEEE. Under Irish legislation, they are legally obliged to take back an appliance if they are delivering out a new one, and also accept WEEE back in-store from customers.”

Donovan reckons the majority of WEEE was well-documented and treated as per the requirements of the Directive. “The role of the producers has to be praised,” he adds, “Right from the start, we have had a great board of directors and involvement from key producer members from all the different electrical sectors recognising their responsibility and being actively involved in making this work.”

More than 9kg of electronic waste per person was collected in Ireland in 2010 compared with a European average of 6kg per person.

“In Ireland it’s free and convenient to recycle electrical waste and this contributes significantly to the recycling rates,” says ERP Ireland general manager Martin Tobin.

Both ERP Ireland and WEEE Ireland operate free public collection days around the country when householders are encouraged to bring all their unused WEEE products to be recycled responsibly.

“The right people worked together to find solutions”

The mix of WEEE collected in Ireland since 2005 has varied. Category 1 waste appliances, such as ovens, dishwashers and fridge-freezers accounted for almost 80% of the WEEE collected at the start but now it accounts for only about 55%. While the volume of small appliances was very low at the start, it now accounts for about 30% of all B2C WEEE collected.

ERP Ireland is the country’s only pan-European compliance scheme for WEEE. Last October it celebrated the milestone collection of one million tonnes of WEEE across the 12 European countries where it operates by throwing a Million Tonne Recycling Party in Dublin. ERP finds the promotion of recycling among younger people an ongoing challenge - hence the party, which was “a great success”, according to Tobin, with partygoers gaining free access in return for recycling WEEE.

Another challenge for both producer compliance schemes is ‘the forgotten WEEE’ such as smaller items and batteries.

“For white and brown goods, people tend to take advantage of the available service to have their old machine collected when the new machine is being delivered. But often the smaller items are placed in the black bin to go to landfill,” says Tobin.

“ERP, through its Be Free Recycling Days, has risen to the challenge of collecting smaller items. The recycling days are well publicised to encourage households to recycle any unwanted items, big or small, that has a plug or a battery. ERP also runs an Irish recycling league each year between our counties. This element encourages local authorities and residents to recycle as much WEEE as possible.”

WEEE Ireland says another challenge to overcome is the fact that only about 100 local authority sites in the country accept WEEE. “We have tried to address this as much as we can. The promotional event programme that we run collects a lot of small WEEE. WEEE Ireland organised more than 100 such public collection days in 2010.”

MEPs recently proposed new targets for collecting, recycling and re-using WEEE, voting 580 to 37 to introduce a target for member states to collect 85% of the e-waste they produce by 2016, a 50-75% recycling target, dependent on the category of electrical waste, and a 5% re-use goal.

Donovan says: “The challenging targets that Ireland and other member states will have to meet must be accompanied by a strong legal framework that supports the good work producers and compliance schemes are already doing.

“The success of the visible environmental management costs [vEMCs] in Ireland as an awareness tool - where they were applied by certain industry sectors and providing cost transparency for funding the large volume of historical WEEE still to be recycled - should not be under-estimated. The targets should be achievable provided that all the WEEE is managed and accounted for by approved schemes and producers.”

There are still aspects of WEEE management that need to be addressed, according to Tobin. “In Ireland, all B2C WEEE collected and treated is in full accordance with the Directive. This is not the case across Europe,” he says. “As a pan-European scheme, ERP’s objective is to create a recycling standard for Europe, and Ireland is a great example of how WEEE can and should be handled.

“In Europe, approximately 30% of total WEEE is given to collection and recycling organisations, with the remaining 70% being sold off by other participants. This 70% is not reported, is untraceable and is potentially exported to developing countries for recycling under hazardous conditions. All participants in the WEEE supply chain should be registered with the national WEEE registration bodies and should report volumes that they trade, making the 65% target more achievable.”

Both producer compliance schemes would like to see a target based on volume placed on the market, but what will be the practical implementation issues?

“Making sure that the scheme is well funded through visible fees, where the industry sectors choose to apply them,” says Donovan. “If you have a well-funded scheme, then stakeholders can work together and the movement of WEEE is controlled to ensure it is properly accounted for and treated in line with the requirements of the Directive. Leakage and scavenging are the big challenges, particularly if the value of metals continues to rise.”

At a European level, ERP would like to see the Directive mandate that all WEEE collected by any means is reported to national authorities, and any volumes collected and processed are counted against national targets. It also wants all WEEE to be processed exclusively in facilities licensed to handle such material, and that recycling/recovery targets and minimum treatment requirements are met by all actors treating WEEE.

Tobin believes the current low collection figures across Europe are a result of low counting rates rather than low collection rates. Donovan reckons that, for most countries, it is due to a lack of enforcement and control measures, and that WEEE is not being accounted for in the regulated system.

Last year, the country’s environment minister approved WEEE Ireland for another five years. According to Donovan, this period would be used to drive cost efficiencies into the system by improving both the collection and treatment operations. “We will drive the collection of WEEE to ensure that our members meet their collection targets, and we will provide a professional and cost-effective compliance solution to our members,” he says.

ERP Ireland, in the meantime, plans to develop its business model further to ensure better outcomes for its members and drive down overall costs. It also intends to implement “fresh and meaningful” communication programmes to increase further the rate of recycling of used electrical items and to develop new ways to encourage the public to recycle their unwanted batteries.

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