The Joint Trade Associations (JTA), which is responsible for distributing an £8m fund generated by the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) compliance fee, is looking for researchers to uncover where missing items end up.
The UK missed its 2017 WEEE collection targets and there is a lack of up-to-date evidence on the flow of material. The JTA has commissioned a study through its WEEE Fund to track it down.
The work will need to quantify to what extent activities such as repair, reuse, hoarding, theft and destruction mean that products are not available to be recycled.
The announcement comes on the back of two studies published today looking into this area carried out by the consultancies Anthesis and 360 Environmental.
WEEE Fund project manager Scott Butler said: “There is no question of the benefits of recycling electronic and electrical waste. However, the route that these products take before they ultimately become waste is not always clear.
“We need to understand the journey they make through the economy so we can set better targets and intervene at the right places to ensure that we maximise the amount of recycling that takes place in the UK.”
360 Environmental carried out work into theft at local authority sites, and reported the news that councils are addressing this concern using CCTV and vehicle recognition software.
Its report concluded that the scale of theft experienced in the past has been addressed, although some sites do still experience serious problems.
The Anthesis report found that a significant fraction of small mixed WEEE is being disposed of in householders’ black bins and sent to landfill.
Associate director global producer responsibility Dr Richard Peagam said: “Our work provides a useful snapshot of the activity we know is happening outside the mainstream WEEE system.
“Some is perfectly legitimate and innovative – commendable even – while some is absolutely not legitimate. We need to seriously think about how we can differentiate between the two and treat the material in question properly.”
The Anthesis report also found that some WEEE, such as air-conditioning, building controls and lighting, are being disposed of as construction and demolition waste.
However, other WEEE was being reused – including vending machines, commercial power tools, medical equipment and gym equipment – and some was being stored in homes – some small mixed equipment and household tools.