March is a significant month for the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) industry: the Environment Agency will publish its final report into the total WEEE collected in 2017 and collection targets for 2018 will also be finalised.
Quarterly figures published in 2017 have shown that for most streams, WEEE arisings in the UK have been behind expectation, and the trend continued into Q4.
What has become abundantly clear is that target-setting is very difficult in times of economic change, and the industry must examine how forecasting can be refined to take into account the wider socio-economic trends that lead to the availability of WEEE.
With this in mind, in the latter half of 2017, Repic engaged with the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University to conduct an in-depth research project, at arm’s length from ourselves, to suggest possible improvements in forecasting to help shape recycling targets in the UK.
“The industry must examine how forecasting can be refined to take into account the wider socio-economic trends that lead to the availability of WEEE.”
The current model for target-setting follows a trend analysis based on electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) sales and WEEE, where for every tonne of new product sold, producer compliance schemes must collect a proportion of old electrical items for recycling.
A key objective of the study is to look at socio-economic factors, as well as unreported flow data that have, to date, led to higher or lower collected WEEE tonnages against the targets set by Defra.
The project team is undertaking detailed data analysis to improve intelligence on high-level EEE sales trends and fates of WEEE. This includes the amount of EEE put on the market and its lifecycle, as well as collection and recycling trends.
A recent report by the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers (CECED), Material Flows of the Home Appliance Industry, highlighted the need to substantiate
what we think is recycled through normal economic activity and place more emphasis on what is not recycled. With only one-third of WEEE effectively traced in Europe, it is crucial that we gain a greater understanding of waste flows that are not accounted for.
According to the CECED report: “While the industry-driven recycling schemes do collect substantial amounts of WEEE, even larger amounts are handled outside the schemes. Achieving the new collection targets set for 2019 and onwards will only be possible when these quantities handled by other economic operators are accounted for and proper discard by consumers is tackled.”
The report also points to a study carried out in 2016 by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills which looked beyond the fate of WEEE handled directly by the industry. This showed that, out of the estimated home appliance WEEE generated in the UK, 45% was taken care of by industry, 36% by complementary flows of commercial operators, 10% was converted from municipal collections points and 9% was disposed in general waste – leaving a gap of just 11%.
According to the report, by applying data in this way to the whole EU, it is possible to estimate that 3.1 of the four million tonnes of home appliances generated as waste in 2016 can be accounted for as recovered compared with 1.7 million tonnes that is officially reported and handled by industry. The Lancaster University work looks to update this research.
Recommendations by the Prospecting Secondary Raw Materials in the Urban Mine and Mining Wastes (ProSUM) project group, have also highlighted the need to focus on these unreported collection flows. The group calls for everyone involved in the collection, trade and recycling of WEEE (outside of producer responsibility organisations) to report on the quantity and fate of the WEEE they manage.
ProSUM also highlights further work which should be undertaken with recyclers to quantify comprehensively the theft of valuable components and its impact on recycling and reporting.
Understanding the impact of Open Scope – which, from 2019, means that all EEE must be classed in scope of regulations (with some minor exclusions) – is another key objective of the Lancaster University research. The work will make recommendations on whether further sampling or studies are needed to improve UK data on complementary flows and previously unobligated WEEE.
The work will support the move to Open Scope, helping to predict the amount and fate of WEEE generated in 2018 and with future category targets for the producer compliance system.
It is clear that the factors surrounding target-setting are complex and multifaceted. With the initial results of Repic’s work with the university due to be published in the spring, we hope that it will form a starting point for the development of a dynamic flow model to better forecast WEEE generation and help to inform the derivation of WEEE collection targets.
Mark Burrows-Smith is the Chief executive of WEEE compliance scheme Repic