In June 2018 it was announced that a bumper £8m of funding – significantly more than has been available in previous years – was up for grabs to support waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) projects from the WEEE Compliance Fee Fund. In 2015 the fund was a mere £45,000.
The fund is generated via the compliance fee, a regulatory tool to support the delivery of the WEEE Regulations. If a producer compliance scheme misses its target, it pays a compliance fee for the tonnage shortfall. In 2017 collections of WEEE fell considerably short of national targets – 522,901 tonnes of household WEEE collected against a target of 622,033 tonnes. This was also some 60,000 tonnes less than was collected in 2016.
When the fund was announced, Susanne Baker, chair of the Joint Trade Association (JTA) and head of TechUK’s environment and compliance programme, said its size meant that “a significant difference” could be made to how the UK’s WEEE regime functioned. Speaking to MRW in November, Baker, along with Scott Butler, the WEEE Fund manager, explained that many stakeholder meetings had taken place during the summer to discuss the best use of the money.
The funds will be targeted at three strands: technical research; local authority and community projects; and communications and behaviour change. They will be allocated to some projects based on briefs put together by the WEEE Fund team and others in response to open calls for submissions.
In a bid to make informed decisions on where best to allocate funds to achieve the greatest results and impact, an initial study, now completed by consultancy Anthesis, was commissioned to analyse WEEE projects that had been funded in the past and how effective these had been (see www.weeefund.uk/previous).
Baker and Butler explain that an open stakeholder-based approach has been taken this year so that experts and associations across the relevant sectors are all involved in creating a framework for getting the best results. But a couple of technical projects – on persistent organic pollutants and the mixed WEEE protocol – have been fast-tracked, with funding already allocated.
The law requires that the compliance fee is set at a level to encourage compliance through collection. The fee therefore complements national targets by creating an additional financial incentive to collect WEEE because, by definition, it must at least reflect the true cost of recycling WEEE.
WEEE funds will be available for disbursement to organisations in accordance with Defra Guidance:
- To support higher levels of collection, recycling and reuse for household WEEE
- To assist the UK to meet its obligations under the WEEE Directive
- To support the strategic aims of the WEEE Directive
Each year, organisations are invited to submit proposals to run the compliance fee in any given year. For the 2017 compliance period, the JTA’s – a group of trade associations representing producers of electrical and electronic equipment – methodology was selected by the secretary of state.
The compliance fee is administered by Mazars on behalf of JTAC, the registered company established by the JTA with the sole purpose of entering into contracts with third parties for services relating to the WEEE compliance fee.
Another area where greater understanding is needed is around WEEE flows and where material is getting ‘lost’ in the system, and therefore what potential operational or regulatory interventions would be needed. This work is expected to be open to the market for bids.
With respect to local authority and community projects, the fund has been considering the approach taken to distribute money. Traditionally, councils or community groups have applied for funding for specific projects, where they have needed money to, for example, buy bins or put together promotional material.
Butler explains: “We had a lot of feedback from the local authority community that the old approach of bidding into a pot is not working as well as it could.” There was the feeling that, because of a lack of resources, some councils were more able to apply for funding than others, and some lacked the ability to take on and deliver additional projects.
Butler says engagement with this sector has been through stakeholder meetings with the likes of the Local Government Association, the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee, Arc21 and the National Association of Waste Disposal Officers. He explains that a “more strategic approach” is being formulated that will hopefully address the concerns raised. This will also take into account the difference in recycling approaches and policies between the UK’s devolved administrations.
“How we are going to work with local authorities is different from the way we worked with them in the past,” Butler says. He adds that the approach will be about “incentivising behaviour rather than defining their behaviour” but, at this stage, it is too early to say exactly what the projects and approach will look like.
To enable communications and behaviour change under the third strand, research has been commissioned to assess the levels of awareness of WEEE recycling among geographic and demographic groups of people. Analysis of these findings will help to determine what approach to take.
The aim is to have a strong evidence base from which to decide where the money is best spent, with agreement of the relevant stakeholders. Baker explains that the plan is to deliver a high-quality brief for a broad spectrum of agencies, from the specialist to the more well-known communications agencies, with the idea of eliciting innovative ideas.
Butler adds that, despite any assumptions the industry may have, a large fund does not necessarily mean there will be a huge national WEEE campaign on TV. It is expected that there would be a “significant” digital campaign, possibly with more traditional approaches – but it will be determined by the gaps and key target demographics identified by the research, with money spent accordingly.
The WEEE fund is at the point where it has kicked off some projects, but is waiting for its initial analysis to come back in the next few months to determine its wider approach.
Butler says he wants to maintain flexibility in where funding goes, but it has committed £1m to technical research and expects perhaps a further £500,000 for that area; around £4m to local authorities and community groups; and around £2.5m for work on communications and behaviour change. He emphasises that it will spend money using an evidence-based approach, with nothing set in stone.
More clarity on projects and spend is expected by February/March 2019, with the funding expected to run through 2019 and 2020. Butler says: “We have three big plates spinning at the same time and it is about getting them to the right stage to complement each other.”
At the time of writing, there was still a question mark around who would be administering the 2018 fund, with the JTA and Valpak both in the frame. If the JTA’s proposal for 2018 is chosen, Baker says the plan would be to roll it into the work it is already doing, to bolster the existing funds and add to its current lines of work.
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)
Under the Institute Council for Electronic Industry Recycling (ICER)-led study, more than 25,000 samples of plastics from displays, large and small domestic appliances, power tools, fridges and printed circuit boards will be scanned and tested for POPs – specifically bromine content indicative of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a group of flame retardants which, while now no longer used in modern equipment, was used widely by industry in the past.
PBDEs were the first brominated POPs listed under the Stockholm Convention because they are toxic, subject to long-range transport, degrade very slowly and persist in the environment. The listing means that their manufacture, use or sale are prohibited.
Using a methodology agreed with Defra and the Environment Agency, the study will explore where these chemicals are, what type and in what quantities. It will then assess options for separating out WEEE plastics found to contain POPs and identify sites where they can be safely destroyed.
A review of the existing protocols – the Mixed WEEE Protocol and the Large Domestic Appliances Protocol – in preparation for regulatory changes in January 2019 which will see more electrical and electronic equipment come under the scope of the WEEE Regulations is being led by the WEEE Schemes Forum.
The work will be run in two phases: the first is already underway and will result in a proposal for revised protocols. The second phase, which will run for six months in 2019, will seek to refine Phase I results.