WEEE data must improve to reach targets, says REPIC

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For the second year running, 2018 saw figures for collected waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) fall short of government targets. While there are many viewpoints as to why, it has been evident that solely increasing Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) targets does not automatically drive an increase in the amount of WEEE collected.
The government’s Resources and Waste Strategy outlines the need to better understand which metrics may be applied to target setting in order to:

  1. Maximise the value of resource use
  2. Minimise waste and its impact on the environment

Improving WEEE data flowsIt’s here that better data on electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and WEEE flows can support the government to, where necessary, set effective policies and targets that influence the right behaviours. This is important in the context of the waste hierarchy, where reduce and reuse have priority over recycling, and the circular economy.

The challenge

Establishing the timeline between the original purchase of EEE and when it is captured – or not captured – as WEEE is complex. Consider the relationship between EEE and WEEE in comparison to packaging, for example, where consumers tend to buy their weekly groceries and dispose of the packaging shortly afterwards. The routes for collections of end-of-life packaging are measured, reported and limited, with less potential for leakage.

In the journey from EEE to WEEE, there are many different hand-on, reuse, recycling and disposal routes influencing what happens to EEE during its lifecycle – all impacting on how, when and where the product ends its life. These flows are not only affected by age group,
ease of recycling/reuse and personal attitudes, but also by the type of device or appliance.

Where do we need more data?

There are four key EEE and WEEE flows which need to be better understood:

  1. What happens to an EEE product through its life cycle i.e. when it is bought, reused, stored or resold;
  2. The different ways in which WEEE and used EEE is collected;
  3. How WEEE and used EEE is disposed of, including reuse, treatment, recycling, incineration, landfill and illegal flows; and
  4. To identify EEE and WEEE that is not being properly accounted for.

By understanding these flows, it will be possible to identify policy measures that would encourage beneficial behaviour and highlight potential WEEE that is available for reuse and recycling.

It would also allow us to record how flows operating outside the current WEEE system could contribute towards substantiated estimates and, where required, address illegal activities through enforcement.
It is important the whole industry works to bridge this knowledge gap, which will help design sustainable solutions for managing WEEE in the future.

Maximising delivery on government policy objectives

Essentially all e-waste stakeholders are working towards the same outcome – an effective system for the management, recycling and disposal of WEEE and a system where ‘good’ behaviours such as repair and reuse and recycling are encouraged and facilitated. To achieve this, a stronger mapping of detailed WEEE and EEE flows is essential.
The complex and varied routes that can be taken by used EEE products needs to be considered in both setting targets and considering what can legitimately be used to report against them.
Using funding collected through the WEEE compliance fee mechanism, the WEEE Fund is progressing with technical research to deliver insights on unreported EEE and WEEE flows. The analysis and synthesis of this data aims to perform a comprehensive EEE and WEEE flow assessment, support more accurate substantiated estimates for target setting and identify priority areas for further research.
REPIC’s Industry Insights Series has been developed to provide WEEE industry expertise to help inform policy-makers and support the delivery of optimal recycling outcomes for the industry, the public and the environment. The first report in the series, Understanding WEEE and EEE flows to support implementation of policy objectives, explores the scale of potential WEEE available for reuse and recycling.

You can access the full report for free on REPIC’s dedicated website