Nearly 500 delegates and 56 exhibitors attended the 11th annual International Electronics Recycling Congress in Salzburg, Austria but only 23 people were from the UK (four were speakers, six were exhibitors and six came from one organisation alone).
It would seem the opportunity for promoting British excellence and debating the WEEE recast and the development of WEEE recycling across the world passes the majority of UK companies and agencies by.
Having attended a good number of these congresses over the last few years, I know the benefit of meeting colleagues from around the world to listen to noteworthy presentations. There are important topics such as how raw material prices develop and how this may impact the UK metals markets and gate fees (given by Michael Widmer of The Bank of America Merrill Lynch).
There are sometimes conflicting or controversial views put forward, like the two regarding the safety of LCD screen treatment operations and the use of PPE and other measures to protect the health of operatives. It is also a chance to debate and understand plans for forthcoming legislation or standards.
The chance for networking between presentations with key players in the WEEE recycling industry is second to none, with much advice and guidance gained, as well as prospects for new clients and work projects.
This year, though, only three UK exhibiting companies made the decision to attend in an arena that is largely dominated by German and Dutch companies and included exhibitors from outside the EU (USA, Turkey, etc.). One from Singapore has been developing state-of-the-art technologies designed to recover rare earth minerals – which is an emergent and important market.
The two days of the conference brought together keynote speakers, including the EU Commission and Dutch Environmental Agency who discussed the topics of illegal and legal export of WEEE and WEEE fractions.
Jean Cox-Kearns from Dell Global Takeback spoke about the emerging and different global E-recycling standards. It was notable that there appears to be so many systems in place, some with quite different limits and objectives, but that few (outside of the general ISO 9001 & 14001 accreditations on quality and environmental management) have been achieved or are being undertaken by UK WEEE operators to date.
One idea for debate would be the large number of WEEE compliance schemes in the UK (more than the rest of the EU put together). What auditing regimes and accreditations do they require their treatment partners to meet and why is this different to the pressure producers and schemes place on their partners in the rest of the EU or USA?
UK compliance was another topic raised by Kirstie McIntyre from HP. Research they have instigated found that, whilst the market had grown, with output materials achieving better prices, producers are paying over £50m a year more in the UK than in other EU member states.
It concluded this was due to the UK evidence note trading system, in an arena that allows a compliance scheme to collect WEEE despite not having any or very few members. This is an important point, and one that the UK Government are being asked to address in their amendments to the WEEE Regulations (as required under the recast).
All in all, these are such good reasons to attend EU and international events like the IERC so that one keeps up-to-date and can take part in debates concerning regulation changes that will eventually affect us all here at home.
Julie-Ann Adams, Managing Director, Really Green Credentials Ltd