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WEEE businesses get connected - but need more feedstock

Justin Greenaway

Juston Greenaway on how to encourage more waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recycling

This month the WEEE Directive was four years old. People still snigger at the catchy name. But last year saw me, you and all other domestic electrical consumers achieve a 38% recycling rate. Should we pop corks to celebrate the Directive’s birthday safe in the knowledge that the UK is doing a good job?

To our credit, the WEEE Directive launch date of July 2007 was smooth, with no WEEE mountains, plenty of containers at household waste sites and an abundance of recycling capacity ready to recycle.

But there is a looming problem: 2014 brings a 45% recycling target, rising to 65% by 2018 (subject to EU haggling). This target will also include business electronics. Regrettably, we are achieving visibility of only 5% recycling when WEEE waste is measured against new product sold.

Although business and domestic targets are set to be amalgamated, motivating the two sectors to recycle more needs very different approaches.

Increasing WEEE recycling from businesses is going to be a difficult nut to crack. Gaining visibility of recycling data and assurance that it is being recycled correctly is the challenge.

Far too often, untested WEEE is removed from businesses by disposal companies without it being classified as waste. This allows the ‘non-waste asset’ to be moved around without compliance schemes or the Environment Agency (EA) ever hearing about the tonnage.

“It’s no surprise that if you tell people about the waste stream, then more is recycled”

More worrying is that the perceived asset may never even have its originating asset tag removed or be tested before being sold again, mainly for export. The Ghanaian EA estimates that 75% of imported second-hand electronics do not work upon arrival, and the optimistically described ‘asset’ will become waste in a developing country where children work the toxic wastelands.

We should learn from the Panorama documentary about this scandal and embrace the use of trackers in WEEE as an effective way to highlight bad practice. Only then can we hope to see an increase on our dismal 5% business WEEE recycling rate.

Domestic WEEE recycling can be increased through better awareness of the waste stream: WRAP showed that a 30% increase can be achieved. It Is no surprise that if you tell people about the waste stream, then more is recycled.

Forward-thinking WEEE recyclers and compliance schemes have funded the production of a educational TV advert, and they should all be congratulated. Since the Directive’s launch, recyclers have been disappointed about the lack of a national awareness campaign - but the advert is ready for broadcast with a transmission date scheduled for pre- and post-Christmas 2011.

Spreading the word of WEEE is highly cost effective. Based on last year’s viewing figures, £32,000 can communicate to nine million people.

So this is my call to arms. If you are a large waste company running household waste sites, an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility keen for more in-feed, WEEE downstream raw material purchasers or a producer compliance scheme, collectively we can communicate economically the message to millions: WEEE connect.

Justin Greenaway is contracts manager at SWEEEP


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