Poorer communities throughout the UK are suffering because retail waste electrical and electronic take-back schemes are taking a proportion of WEEE away from social enterprises that could repair and redistribute them.
Welsh-based social enterprise Enfys Foundation offers a free collection service for re-useable items and gets donations from householders. These goods go to assist people who are in receipt of benefits, homeless or who need help in maintaining a basic standard of living.
Enfys Foundation managing director Robert Alexander told MRW that many poorer communities were suffering because whereas prior to the WEEE Regulations electrical appliances were donated to many projects which utilised them to raise funds for local benefit. He said: Post-WEEE the big boys who sell new items are taking away the replaced items, mostly at a charge, and taking them away from being a community benefit.
Alexander has called on retailers that operate WEEE take-back schemes to contribute a small proportion of their WEEE to social enterprises in order to assist those most in need, while they collect and deliver WEEE items.
White goods received by the Enfys Foundation are then repaired by people who gain qualifications.
Alexander said: My argument is that awareness should be raised to educate those who have a project in their area and should donate the item to them. What we plan to do then, is embed the goods within the NVQ training course, therefore lowering costs of reparation and allowing more availability to fulfil requests we have for assistance, from individuals and social service agencies. They are really stretched with their funding and are buying new which eats into their budgets and ultimately means that less people get help.
Under the WEEE Regulations retailers of household electrical and electronic equipment must offer in-store take-back of WEEE on a one-to-one or like-for-like basis.
Social enterprise firm Croydon Appliance Re-use Centre works closely with the South West London Partnership, which includes Croydon, Kingston and Merton Council. It collects, refurbishes and redistributes products such as cookers, fridges and washing machines. General manager Ray Berwick said: Retail take-back has had an adverse effect on our stock availability, coupled with the effects of the recession our overall stock is a lot less.
However, demand has increased as people are looking for the best value for their money.
A Currys spokesman said: We have been fulfilling our WEEE obligations through third parties such as Environcom [WEEE recycling firm]. They support us in delivering an efficient and extremely popular service to customers, who appreciate the option to recycle for free on delivery, or indeed to use a unique take-back in store operation.
Environment Agency policy advisor Adrian Harding said the EA would like to see more WEEE going to refurbishment and promote legitimate re-use. Harding said that some retailers had contracts with social enterprises to redistribute WEEE.
He added that the WEEE advisory board [a non-Governmental WEEE public body] was trying to develop a standard for re-use to classify when an electrical item is no longer classified as waste and help stop leakage from the system.
He explained that some unscrupulous individuals were deliberately sending WEEE to West Africa and it was illegal to send it there.
Harding said that EAs priority for this year was to try to put a stop to people sending WEEE illegally abroad. It has made 11 arrests so far.