What is WEEE waste and how can you recycle it?
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is something which needs specialist recycling. All too often it can find itself in landfill as many homes and businesses do not know the best way to dispose of it.
This can be incredibly harmful to the environment and plays a large part in making the waste problem of the UK even bigger than it already is and presents a massive danger for public health and wildlife.
Our homes and businesses are now packed full of electrical items, and so the amount of waste that they produce is growing each year. It has therefore become imperative that it is dealt with, and new WEEE regulations have been gradually brought in over the last decade to make sure that we have proper systems in place to deal with it.
In this article, Flame UK, specialists in electrical waste disposal, take a proper look at what constitutes WEEE waste and find the best ways for you or your business to deal with it in a responsible and convenient way.
What is WEEE waste?
It is estimated that around 2 million tonnes of WEEE items are discarded by individuals and businesses each year in the UK alone. A WEEE product is generally considered to be anything with a plug or a battery, so it covers a wide range of typical household and business items.
There are 10 main categories of WEEE waste which include large household appliances such as fridges, cookers and washing machines, as well as small household appliances like vacuum cleaners and irons. WEEE also includes IT and telecommunications equipment such as computers, phones and even calculators.
The consumer equipment category includes televisions, radios and musical instruments, whilst the lighting equipment category refers to straight and compact fluorescent tubes and high intensity discharge lamps.
The toys, leisure and sports equipment category could be anything from electric trains to games consoles and treadmills, whilst electrical and electronic tools look at drills, saws, electric lawnmowers and sewing machines.
There is a medical devices category which covers dialysis machines, analysers and cardiology equipment, and the monitoring and control equipment refers to smoke detectors and thermostats. Finally, there is an automatic dispenser’s category which covers hot drinks dispensers and money dispensers.
The only exceptions to these regulations are products which have been produced for military use or systems which have been built within another system, such as the satellite navigation system in a car. There are also some large industrial tools and fixed installations which are exempt from the regulations.
Currently, large household appliances make up 40% of WEEE, but there are also 2 million televisions discarded each year. Each item contains a complex mixture of materials such as glass, plastic, metal, ceramics and even some precious metals. Some of the materials involved can be hazardous and so they can also create a health risk to those who come into contact with them or if they seep not the ground or water sources if they have not been disposed of properly.
What are WEE regulations?
The WEEE regulations refer to the way in which the items that fall under this bracket are recycled. As this is now the fastest growing waste stream, it has become imperative that something is done about it quickly before the problem becomes something which cannot be overcome.
The regulations put the responsibility onto the those who produce or sell electrical goods to be responsible for what happens to them at the end of their life. These businesses are expected to collect and recycle 65% of the weight of the goods that the put into the market, and a failure to do so incurs a fee that will be used to improve the recycling services even further.
That is why most big electrical retailers now offer a service to take your old electrical goods away when you buy a new one.
These businesses have been required to join a compliance scheme which makes contracts with local authorities, retailers, and recyclers to collect, weigh and recycle the items and then report the statistics back to the Environment Agency.
The WEEE regulations
The WEEE regulations mean different things or different people, depending on where you find yourself in the chain.
A producer is someone who manufactures and sells electrical items in the UK under their own brand or buy and make changes to items in order to rebrand and sell them. It also refers to those who import electrical items on a commercial basis or supply electrical items to the UK through distance selling.
The extent of their obligation will depend on how much they placed onto the UK market the year before. If it is more than five tonnes, then they will be required to join the Product Compliance Scheme (PCS). If the amount is less than this, then they will be eligible to register directly with their environmental regulator.
A distributor is classed as anyone distributing electrical goods to people within the UK, and your obligation is to make sure that anyone buying these goods has a way to recycle them. Distributors must keep a record of how much WEEE they take back from customers over the last four years and they must provide customers with written information on their recycling services.
When recycling these goods, it is important that they are transported safely and correctly, before being directed to an Authorised Treatment Facility (AF). It is here where they will be disposed of according to the relevant guidelines and legislation for each item.
From a consumer point of view, it is now easier than ever to have your electrical goods recycled. With an increased number of collection points and more services from retailers, there are now very few barriers when it comes to electrical recycling.
It is not only consumers and businesses which are feeling the benefit, the planet is too, as with fewer precious resources being sent to landfill means less carbon emissions, less mining for new materials and less damage to communities, and that can only ever be a good thing!
Sarah Vernau is the Marketing Manager at Flame UK, who are an innovative leader in cost containment and the management for all Waste, Energy and Water consuming businesses.