Material Focus advises new metrics for WEEE

New electricals and batteries must be measured by quantity as well as weight according to research commissioned by not-for-profit Material Focus. The report (An evaluation of suitable metrics to measure the success of the UK's waste electricals and batteries system) has identified new measures to evaluate UK electrical and battery flows. Conducted by Ricardo, the metrics aim to move the UK towards a circular economy. 

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Under current UK producer responsibility regulations for WEEE and waste batteries, producers of electricals and portable batteries must report what electricals and batteries they sell by weight and by type of product only.

Weight-based targets overlook the impacts and importance of circular design such as designing out waste and pollution whilst keeping products in use for longer, changes in design due to technological advances, and the efficiency and quality of the recycling processes and their material outputs.

Collecting data on the weight and quantity of electrical items and splitting this into more detailed product categories is likely to provide ‘the most comprehensive understanding of the sector to date’.

Currently, the government uses information on products put onto the market to set collection and recycling targets. Producers are responsible for the cost of collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electricals and batteries.

Material Focus says this will assist with public communications, understanding changes in the market and what happens to products after first use.

Ideas for these metrics were initially informed through a literature review of key publications and previous studies. This was further supported by a stakeholder questionnaire sent out to a range of stakeholders through Material Focus’ advisory panel.

Other UK metrics for circularity of WEEE

The research identified a number of other UK metrics to improve the circularity of waste electricals and portable batteries.

Material Focus and Ricardo recommend the introduction of a new national material recovery rates reporting system to ensure comprehensive reporting of all recovered materials (by weight) obtained from approved and authorised UK waste electrical and battery recycling centres. Specific materials, such as precious and critical raw materials, can then be focused on. A new system will also enable an understanding of ongoing progress within the sector, but Ricardo notes that to be effective this would require legislation.

The results also show the need for national trackers to understand better consumer awareness and behaviours, such as the hoarding and binning of WEEE. This will allow an understanding of where waste electricals are being ‘lost’ in the system and potential interventions, for example through consumer communications.

A national system to record the number and type of drop-off points for WEEE across the UK will help target measures to improve consumer access to repair, donation and recycling services.

The report also concludes that metrics for monitoring CO2, the success of digital inclusion programmes, and the tracking and valuing of reuse and repair activities need consideration.

The research estimated that the total cost to implement the proposed metrics across all regions of the UK is approximately £170,000 per year.

‘Most comprehensive understanding of electricals and portable battery flows’

Scott Butler, Executive Director at Material Focus said: “This research has identified new measures that could deliver the most comprehensive understanding of electricals and portable battery flows and their performance within the UK circular economy to date. 

“Greater understanding of consumer behaviours will also provide essential information. Together these new metrics will provide information that can assist in targeting useful actions and interventions to improve the circularity of the waste electricals and portable batteries systems.”