Last reviewed 6 June 2016

As the WEEE regulations continue to evolve, how can environment managers take a more holistic approach to the electronics they must dispose of? Can a more informed buying process and comprehensive recycling deliver reduced levels of e-waste that have to be dealt with? Dave Howell reports.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2013 became law in January 2014. The regulations have governed the disposal of electrical equipment as a response to the two million televisions discarded each year, and the fact that 40% of waste that falls under WEEE is larger household appliances such as fridges and washing machines.

A complex mix of components and materials make up the vast majority of appliances and other devices that WEEE governs. For environment managers the focus has often been on the disposal of electronic devices, most notably computers, at the end of their lives. Moving forward, environment managers can make more practical changes to their procurement and also improve their discard rates to reduce the WEEE burden on their businesses or organisations.

A wide approach

Taking a wide approach to replacing not just production equipment, but also fixtures and fittings throughout premises is becoming a widely adopted procedure in order to cut the replacement cycle and reduce costs. For instance, over the last five years there has been an accelerating move to non-CRT freestanding computer monitors and those used in laptop PCs. This waste will deliver 145,000 tonnes into the waste stream with the main issue being the quantity of mercury that these screens contain.

Dave Meehan, general manager, compliance at Biffa, said: “I think if we take a high level view — and of course there will always be exceptions — environment managers are aware of the WEEE regulations and what their responsibilities are regarding how WEEE items need to be disposed of separately from other waste their businesses or organisations produce. I think the message is generally understood, but whether they have a set route for that disposal is a different matter.”

Environment managers do, however, also have to manage a wider selection of inputs when complying with the WEEE regulations. Waste toner cartridges, capacitors containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that are now coming to the end of their life, legacy appliances that might contain asbestos and components containing refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs), mainly used in furnace, heater and kiln linings, may all need to be considered.

Recently, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) has approved European Recycling Platform’s (ERP) recycling standard for the end-of-life management of IT and display equipment. This means ERP can now offer customers certification that is approved by the influential global rating system which establishes the environmental credentials of products for consumers.

“ERP is the only group of compliance schemes directly operating in 15 European countries and we have long-standing expertise in the end-of-life management of waste electronics,” says Umberto Raiteri, CEO and President of ERP. “The recent EPEAT approval adds to the wide range of national and European-wide quality standards which already cover our waste management and compliance services. We demand the highest environmental standards from our treatment and recycling partners and we are delighted that the EPEAT recognition further establishes our environmental credentials.”

Readoption for savings

All businesses have a “duty of care” that is a legal requirement under the regulations for how any device or appliance that falls under WEEE is stored, transported and disposed of. Businesses can fulfil their duty of care by using a licensed and authorised WEEE waste contractor and documenting the process through Waste Transfer Notices. Collectors of waste need a Waste Carrier Licence, and WEEE recycling, treatment and disposal facilities need to be registered as an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF).

To gain an insight into how environment managers can better manage their WEEE responsibilities, we spoke with Clément Gaubert, WEEE Scheme Manager at Veolia UK, and began by asking for his key advice to environment managers regarding how they handle the WEEE across their businesses or organisations.

Gaubert commented: “My first piece of advice to environment managers is to look beyond the cheapest option to get the best value for money. Next, make sure you closely manage the WEEE you’re responsible for; which involves making sure contractors work in accordance with the latest WEEE regulations as well as environmental standards and permits.”

Is repair or refurbishment a realistic option for environment managers who want to reduce the quantity of WEEE they have to dispose of?

“In short, yes, especially for large white goods and televisions, but only if the logistics are adequate and the manufacturers and retailers are willing to work together. Retailers play a vital initial step in the success of repair and refurbishment schemes, because they often receive the customers’ returns via doorstep collection or at the store, so are the first link in the chain. Therefore, it’s so important to get everyone on board.”

What is clear for all environment managers is that they need to take a more detailed approach to how they manage WEEE across their businesses or organisations. Often, the recycling of other waste streams is separate from the disposal of WEEE, and with multi-site operations, finding a cost-effective balance of services can be difficult.

Biffa’s Dave Meehan concluded: “One of the issues that I see is that the procurement department often doesn’t communicate with the environment managers when buying new goods for their businesses. Environment managers won’t come into play until those items have reached the end of their useful life. At that point you could argue that if they had been consulted, their business could have used smarter purchasing to make compliance with WEEE much easier and cost effective.”

The future of how the WEEE regulations continue to evolve is bound up with the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Remaining a part of the EU will certainly see further refinements of the WEEE regulations. An exit, on the other hand, will mean government deciding how much of the existing regulations will continue to be enforced and developed into the future. For environment managers, developing more inclusive and comprehensive services that better manage their waste should be a primary goal no matter how the UK votes.