WEEE is one of the fastest growing waste streams, mirroring the growth in new product sales and diversity. This is driven by reliance in our business and personal lives on technology, its functionality and the innovative features it can provide.
The original WEEE Directive was introduced into the UK at the end of 2006, with collections beginning in mid-2007. The aim of the regulations was to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic goods going to landfill and improve recovery, recycling and the retrieval of valuable secondary raw materials.
In the early years, the system encountered teething issues as the regulations were implemented. The previous ‘must-buy’ requirement meant that 100% of all WEEE evidence had to be owned by producer compliance schemes (PCSs) in exactly the right proportion to their relative market shares.
Unfortunately, this created a distorted marketplace, where evidence notes were excessively traded at prices that were often not reflective of the true costs that producers expected to pay. This resulted in the origin and treatment of WEEE being neither clear nor auditable for the stakeholders involved.
Recast WEEE Directive: In 2012, the recast Directive and ‘Red Tape Challenge’ provided the Government with the opportunity for a complete review of the regulations. Some key changes were introduced and became effective from January 2014.
The most significant change was the move to a known annual tonnage target for WEEE collections. The former must-buy system resulted in evidence being traded at prices that were unregulated and uncapped. The new system introduced annual fixed WEEE collection targets for PCSs coupled with the option to pay a compliance fee – set annually by the secretary of state – as a legitimate alternative method of compliance.
Evidence trading between all parties was eliminated and, in its place, approved treatment facilities directly provided the PCSs with evidence notes. This offered a clearer audit trail and an increased influence over quality.
It meant a fairer, more transparent, arena for recycling WEEE and also helped to stimulate transition towards equilibrium for the market, with PCSs now disincentivised to over-collect. It meant that more WEEE collectors, including local authorities, opted to partner directly with PCSs that needed WEEE.
Key milestone: March 2014 brought a double celebration for Repic, the largest WEEE producer compliance scheme in the UK. Its members represent approximately half by weight of all electrical and electronic products sold in the UK every year. On the eve of its own 10-year anniversary, Repic announced that it had financed the collection and recycling of more than 1.5 million tonnes of WEEE.
A reception was held at the House of Commons to mark the occasion, and the then minister of state for business and energy, Michael Fallon, said: “Reaching 1.5 million tonnes of WEEE is a remarkable milestone to reach in less than seven years since the regulations took effect.
“It is also an opportunity to celebrate the better, fairer WEEE regulations introduced at the turn of the year. I am sure these will translate into lower compliance costs for the companies here today and, indeed, for the thousands of producers placing new electrical equipment on the market in the UK.
“The new regulations will be good for business, good for the environment and good for those local authorities that play such a crucial role in the collection and subsequent recycling of e-waste.”
‘Responsible Recycling’ campaigns launched: In 2014 Repic launched its WEEE recycling website, Responsible Recycling, followed by a series of initiatives designed to engage local communities and encourage further recycling of old electrical products.
Through joint partnerships with councils, campaigns ranged from providing local causes with £10,000-worth of new electrical items to a schools adventure challenge and a ‘Pass It On’ book challenge. All these strengthened the awareness of WEEE recycling throughout the UK.
Compliance fee safety valve continues: The 2016 WEEE compliance period saw the secretary of state at Defra again exercise the option to introduce a compliance fee as a safety valve in the WEEE system. Under the target/fee-based system, each PCS knows exactly the tonnage it needs and can comply by having more or less. More and it must fund the surplus itself, less and the PCS can pay a fee.
Each year up to 30 September, parties can submit proposals for a fee mechanism. The secretary of state can choose whether to set one, and typically announces if a fee will be set after the year has ended but before the 31 January evidence deadline, then announces the chosen mechanism after that date.
The fee gives Defra the perfect tool to achieve its policy because it is approved (or not) each year. This incentivises PCSs to do deals ‘in year’ rather than risk exposure to a (low or high) fee – or worse still, no fee at all.
The outcome: Repic is pleased to report that the past 10 years has seen the WEEE sector come through a significant period of change. The system has been rebalanced, visibility of the WEEE treatment route has improved for everyone and each PCS now knows who its suppliers and treatment partners are, with both parties benefiting from improved influence over the quality of treatment.
At times it has been challenging, but it was a necessary journey to help lay the foundations of effective co-operation and partnership for the next 10 years and beyond.
Recently released collection data for 2016 is encouraging, showing that the UK beat its collection target and overall collection levels of household WEEE rose by 11%. The data proves that the system is working well and more WEEE is being captured.
The 2017 collection target is challenging – a 7% increase on what was collected in 2016 – but Repic recognises the need to ensure the UK remains on track to meet future target increases. The organisation firmly believes that targets need to be challenging yet realistic, and reflective of what the UK consumer is likely to dispose of next year.
Timeline: The WEEE directive
First WEEE collections started under original WEEE Directive.
Government announces consultation on recast Directive.
Recast WEEE Directive becomes effective.
Repic announces 1.5 million tonnes of WEEE financed and WEEE consumer campaign launched.
UK meets WEEE collection targets.
Mark Burrows-Smith is chief executive of Repic