WEEE Waste Management
The management of WEEE or waste electric and electronic equipment has changed over the last decade or so. It used to be largely sent to landfill but recent legislation such as the WEEE Regulations (2013) has meant that everyone needs to have a more sustainable approach to this kind of waste.
The first part of WEEE waste management, which applies to a lot of waste handling, is adherence to what is called the waste hierarchy. This involves a clearly defined path that is designed to reduce the amount of our waste that is sent to landfill or incineration. The hierarchy is perfect for handling all kinds of WEEE.
The Waste Hierarchy
For all businesses and organisations there is a duty of care required to follow the waste hierarchy as closely as possible. The hierarchy comes from Article 4 of the EU Waste Framework Directive.
- Prevention: Before anything is considered as waste by a business or organisation, you must make every effort to prevent the production of that waste. This can include reusing products or extending their lifespan. Prevention also includes avoiding buying new electrical and electronic products that are not really needed. Many businesses nowadays opt to lease their electrical equipment rather than buy which makes it easier to dispose of and upgrade.
- Preparing for Reuse: Much of WEEE can be cleaned up or repaired on occasion so that it can be reused. This can include components of a product that can be removed and used in other, new products.
- Recycling: There is a large part of WEEE that can be recycled. Up to 80% of a fridge, including the metal and plastic can be recycled and put back into the manufacturing cycle. This is far more preferable than using ‘virgin’ materials that have a higher carbon footprint.
- Other Recovery: These include energy recovery measures such as anaerobic digestion and combustion to produce heat and electricity. It also includes backfilling operations used in construction.
- Disposal: The final step in the hierarchy is the disposal to areas such as landfill. This should be a final solution where there is no other option. Most products, including WEEE, won’t end up here if the processes of the waste hierarchy are followed in order.
For homeowners, while the WEEE regulations don’t strictly apply in the legal sense, the hierarchy should be implemented if you want to live in a more sustainable way. Most councils nowadays allow for the collection of WEEE and it’s appropriate repurposing or disposal.
The Treatment of WEEE
The increase in dedicated WEEE waste services in recent years has been one of the successful growth industries in the UK. Much of this service is involved with either refurbishing old equipment or making sure that the components are separated and either reused or recycled. Waste management for this kind of material is governed by current WEEE legislation:
- You need to have a waste management licence, a pollution, prevention and control permit (PPC) and exemptions if, for instance, you repair and refurbish WEEE.
- You also need to be classed as an Authorised Treatment Facility or ATF or an Approved Authorised Treatment Facility (AATF).
- You need to have the processes and equipment in place that enable you to treat electrical and electronic waste according to best practice for recovery and recycling.
Many ATFs will use trained staff who process WEEE manually, for instance taking out the metal and plastic components. The aim of all this is to send as little of the waste to landfill as possible. These materials can then be recycled back into the manufacturing process. ATFs nowadays ensure that, on average, 75% of any WEEE is repurposed or recycled. The challenge of these processing plants is to produce an end product that is useful to manufacturers and, at the same time, keep down their running costs.
Other Factors for Handling WEEE
Along the whole supply chain when it comes to WEEE there are obligations that need to be met according to the Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2013:
- Producers: This includes manufacturers who need to be part of a compliance scheme as well as paying for their share of the electrical equipment to be recycled or reused. This is designed to make sure also that manufacturers begin to use more components that are easily recycled and contain less hazardous materials in their devices.
- Distributors: Sellers of electrical products need to offer take back services for their customers. For example, if you are buying a television the distributor should also pick up your old one and send it for treatment or disposal. For homeowners, this service should be free. Commercial enterprises may have to pay depending on the distributor they use and the product they want disposing of.
Hazardous Waste and WEEE
One of the major problems with WEEE is the presence of some hazardous waste that needs to be disposed of more carefully. There are various EU codes associated with this kind of waste. For example, lead acid batteries for vehicles are considered hazardous as are fluorescent tubes which contain a small amount of mercury. Laptops, computers and PCs all might contain hazardous components including circuit boards with nickel, capacitors containing harmful chemicals and fluorescent backlights.
Find out more about legislation and WEEE waste.