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WEEE recycling figures are not adding up

Compliance schemes and treatment operators have raised concerns to Environment Agency officials that some non-household WEEE was often wrongly being classed as household WEEE.  If this is the case, then not only are the UK’s B2C collection figures going to be skewed, but producers of household EEE are paying for the consequential collection and recycling costs.

The latest 2011 figures from the Environment Agency show that in comparison to 2010, the sharp rise in the collection of tools (up by 32%) and toys and leisure (up by 60%) and gas discharge lamps (up by 20%) is likely to be attributed to the growth in volumes being returned to the ‘non-DCF system’ via collection routes set up by compliance schemes or producers under Regulation 32 and Regulation 39 that allows a scheme to receive household WEEE from distributors, or any other nominated collection point (such as service or warranty returns workshops etc.). Overall collections now made via this route account for nearly a quarter of all household WEEE being collected, which is a considerable rise on 2009 when household WEEE collected through these routes only accounted for 10% of the overall B2C arising’s.

How then might this growth be explained? Clearly, the availability of easy-to-use collection systems and awareness by the public has grown since the inception of the WEEE Regulations, with retailers recognising the benefits of offering low-cost or free returns of waste appliances when new items are delivered to the home. Take-back programmes offering the consumer a simple reuse or recycling option for bulky goods such as fridges and washing machines, added to sales promotions with trade-in benefits are well known.

Looking at the rise in non-DCF collections this is probably the reason for the year on year rise in categories such as large household and cooling appliances, no doubt along with the added factor of the rise in metal values making the proposition more attractive for the take-back and recycling operators.

However, when examining other categories of B2C WEEE returned via non-DCFs one may question what the driver has been to account for this. The chart (above) shows the caparison of five categories in 2009 and 2011.

The tools and toys and leisure equipment categories have seen tools rise from 8% to 15% and toys from 40% to 49% but, surprisingly, gas discharge lamps (GDLs) has jumped from 5% to 20%.

Are these really being returned via non-DCF routes? Are consumers so keen to recycle household electrical tools and toys? Has the relatively low level of new household kerbside collections offered by some local authorities or private collectors been such a success in 2011?

Whilst WEEE from commercial, industrial and institutional sources can be classed as B2C, if, because of its nature and quantity, it is similar to that from private households, a cynic may say that the relatively high cost of recycling non-household GDLs or commercial tools and leisure / sports equipment may be the contributory factor, with the possibility that end-user businesses and / or waste management companies and schemes are taking advantage the lack of transparency of where B2B arises when the evidence is to be traded through the Settlement Centre a key influence. Further investigation is needed perhaps?

Julie-Ann Adams, MD, Really Green Credentials Ltd

Readers' comments (1)

  • Regarding gas discharge lamps I am aware that the (market driven) evidence rate paid for B2C lamps is nearly 3 times that dictated by Recolight for B2B. It does not surpise me therefore that recyclers and PCS' are targetting this market including creation of ingenious take back systems such as reusing working B2B lamps; given to charities and low income families, and then collect them back as B2C lamps at their end of life.

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