The 2017 data for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) confirmed what had been suspected throughout the year: producer compliance scheme (PCS) collections were short of the ambitious targets.
Importantly, all obligated WEEE entering the system was collected and treated. The PCS Balancing System ensured that council sites were being serviced in accordance with legal standards.
To learn from and build on 2017, it is important to take a step back and focus on the figures in relation to the past 10 years because this gives us a clear view of trends in the industry as a whole.
Setting aside the tonnage collected, which will ebb and flow with sales of new equipment (EEE), historic data shows that the percentage returns rate has risen by 15.8% overall for obligated and non-obligated WEEE since 2008.
In fact, during the past decade, for obligated WEEE the percentage returns rate of small household appliances has doubled (from 10.9% to 23.1%), while both IT/telecoms and consumer equipment have trebled (from 10.2% to 33% and 19.4% to 71.9%), respectively.
With fluctuating, and most recently falling, sales of EEE, we are reassured to see that the percentage returns rate has remained stable in more recent years (currently around 40% ).
The system works, but more attention needs to be paid to the wider socio-economic factors that can affect the annual tonnage figures, which translate into tonnage targets.
The methodology used to calculate proposed targets for 2018 acknowledges that a single-year sales of EEE are not the sole consideration in planning for WEEE collection. Using the 2017 collection data as a starting point is sensible, and comparing this with annual averages for EEE placed on the market and WEEE collected since the regulations were changed in 2013 should ensure that challenging targets are put in place while reflecting market trends.
Lancaster University is working on research to understand the wider trends that govern consumer behaviour, as well as undertaking analysis into WEEE streams managed beyond the PCS system.
A study about to be completed indicates that, alongside sales of EEE, complementary flows, second-hand markets, household residency times and component theft are all also affecting the amount of tonnage generated through the official streams.
Such work will help to fill the current knowledge gaps, and give us a much clearer focus on how the industry can move forward.