Biffa introduced its first small domestic WEEE collection service in late 2011 for Woking Borough Council, and has since introduced it to a further 13 local authority clients, collecting nearly 400 tonnes of small WEEE to date for recycling.
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It provides regular collections of unwanted domestic small WEEE, along with batteries and textiles, as part of scheduled household recycling or residual waste collections.
Residents put these materials into carrier bags alongside their normal refuse or recycling containers, and Biffa crews place the bags in vehicle under-body cages (pictured). The cage contents are then decanted for bulk haulage to an authorised WEEE re-processor through Biffa’s compliance scheme, Transform. Biffa earns income by selling the WEEE to re-processors and from recycling evidence notes certified by Transform, which helps to defray costs for handling, storage and bulk haulage.
In 2013-14, Biffa collected 146 tonnes of WEEE, averaging around 12 tonnes a month, while its figures for 2014-15 to the end of February 2015 show that 133 tonnes has been collected so far.
Pete Dickson, commercial director at Biffa Municipal, says the kerbside small WEEE collection schemes are seen as “an easy win for the authorities and Biffa”.
“It is an extremely high-value service because it provides an easy, intuitive recycling service for a difficult waste stream,” he says. “The more comprehensive the service, the greater engagement there is across the board so, anecdotally, this has a positive impact on recycling generally.”
He concedes that residents “can be confused as to the definition of small WEEE”, and the answer is effective communication ahead of launching the service: “When a new WEEE service starts, there can be a high volume of WEEE put out for collection, which does sometimes require extra effort until the service has settled, usually within a month.”
While Biffa has not carried out any studies on capture rate or impact on migrating material that was already recycled at household waste recycling centres, the overall quality of the material collected is good, but residents sometimes need reminding to separate their used batteries.
As to how the economics stack up for such collections, Dickson explains: “Broadly, from a national perspective, the haulage costs are covered by the WEEE income. Any additional service obviously presents a risk and an operating cost. The relative cost will always be minimal compared with refuse and recycling collections, but the actual cost depends on how busy or pushed crews were before adding WEEE collections to their duties. It is a marginal cost, but it varies from one contract to another.”
He adds that kerbside WEEE left out for collection has been known to be targeted and illegally taken by others – such cases are reported to the local police. Another issue for these collections is the challenge presented by the latest Euro 6 class vehicles, which have less space available for underbody cages. Biffa is working with vehicle suppliers to find a solution for this.