Government needs to weigh up cost and benefit of collecting WEEE from kerbside

Louise Grantham, Chief Executive of WEEE compliance scheme REPIC, considers how one-size-fits-all might not not be the answer as the industry responds to the Government’s consultation on proposals for kerbside collection of waste electricals.

Making it easier and more convenient to dispose of unwanted electricals is a sensible proposal for everyone involved in the WEEE sector to support.

Louise GranthamThe growth of electrical and electronic devices in our daily lives necessitates convenient and efficient ways to manage their end-of-life disposal. On the surface, rolling out wide-scale kerbside collection and free of charge home-collections appears to be a positive step towards meeting the growing demand for more accessible solutions.

However, an effective collection system requires a thorough understanding of the complexities involved in managing electrical waste. As we found in the research for our ”15 year Looking Back to Looking Forward” paper published last year, there is a lot to consider. Not least, an understanding of why, how and when electricals become waste and the requirements of the many stakeholders involved, from producers, retailers, end-users, local authorities, recyclers, to charities and social enterprises.

Providing a kerbside collection service does not guarantee its utilisation nor is it guaranteed that offering free home-collection will result in increased recycling rates. In fact, as the CEO of a leading electrical retailer recently stated it could lead to reduced recycling efforts, whilst increasing costs for consumers and adding burdens for businesses.

Additional collection solutions need to be effective but also consider the practical challenges and industry concerns. These will be shared with Defra through the current consultation process and REPIC welcomes the opportunity to provide evidence that a one size fits all approach may not be the answer and to propose suitable alternatives that take into account the unique nature of WEEE disposal.

This must start with recognising that WEEE is not discarded on a regular basis like packaging; so, a nuanced approach is required to cater for the irregular disposal patterns of electronic waste. This is a technology driven waste stream so solutions also need to take account of its changing nature and the needs and roles of the different stakeholders involved.

While the Government is seeking to implement extended producer responsibility, we must remember this will ultimately be at a cost to the consumer, so solutions need to offer value for money and avoid impacting those in society who are least able to bear the cost.

A wide-scale kerbside and household collection system would introduce significant additional cost for the consumer in terms of infrastructure set up, communications, collection logistics and transportation costs – we need to be sure this would be effective and investment in new collection networks is translated into tangible benefits.

From the kerbside WEEE collection schemes that have taken place to date, or those that are currently in a pilot phase, there is very limited evidence to prove their long term practicality, efficiency and cost effectiveness.

A further significant concern is the risk of undesirable activities, such as theft from the kerbside and resultant fly-tipping. Waste electricals contain valuable materials and in trials kerbside collections have become a target for theft; if not properly treated, hazardous components in WEEE, such as lead, mercury and flame retardants, can have severe environmental consequences.

There is still considerable detail to work through and it is essential we develop policies that are comprehensive, cost effective, practical and considerate of the requirements of all stakeholders. We can achieve this by pooling our resources, knowledge and expertise and focusing on the desired outcomes. We look forward to participating in ongoing sector discussions.