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A fifth of WEEE recycled through 'unofficial' routes

Thousands of tonnes of waste electrical equipment are being diverted from landfill each year through ‘unofficial’ routes such as ebay, car boot sales and incineration, according to new research from WRAP.


The report, titled ‘Market Flows of WEEE materials’ indicates that around 58% of WEEE disposed of in 2010 was reused, reprocessed or recovered in the UK, significantly higher than the 37% reported through approved authorised treatment facilities (AATFs).


According to the report, this trend can be attributed to WEEE having a greater value and more material-rich streams than other waste sources which makes people more likely to reuse the items, as well as a significant proportion of WEEE being classified wrongly when it reaches recycling facilities.




Under the WEEE Directive, producers of electronics are required to provide evidence that a certain proportion of waste electrical goods generated are being recycled when they reach the end of their working life. In order to do so, producer compliance schemes obtain recovery notes from WEEE reprocessors as evidence of this recycling.


AATFs are licensed sites set up to carry out WEEE recycling, which includes depollution, disassembly, shredding, recovery or preparation for disposal of waste electrical items, and can issue evidence of recovery. Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) are permitted to process WEEE but are not able to issue recovery notes.


WRAP manufacturing project manufacturer Lucy Keal claims it is difficult to measure the total amount of WEEE being recovered outside of AATFs, but estimates that up to 260,000 tonnes of WEEE are being reused or reprocessed each year outside of the WEEE recycling system.


She said: “We estimate that aside from the 37% entering approved authorised treatment facilities, just over a fifth is also being recovered through authorised treatment facilities, scrap merchants, material recycling facilities (MRFs) or incinerators, as well as reused through facilities such as Ebay and car boot sales.”




In producing the report, WRAP obtained sales data for electrical items sold between 2007 and 2009 and estimated the likely lifespan for products in each of the WEEE categories. From this information, WRAP was able to estimate the total amount of electrical equipment that was likely to reach the end of its usable life and compare this to the amount of WEEE that had been recycled through AATFs in 2010.


WRAP argues that while it is positive that a higher proportion of WEEE is being recycled than previously thought, getting waste electrical items into the correct channels is a key component to maximising recycling rates.


Ms Keal said: “If we can keep increasing the quantity going through AATFs, which are well equipped to recover the maximum materials from the WEEE, this should pull more items in through these other paths, increasing recycling rates overall and improving how we record and manage these items.”




Also highlighted in the report is the small proportion of B2B recycling that is entering the WEEE recycling system, with figures suggesting that the ratio of recycled to landfilled tonnages of B2B WEEE is 3:4, compared to 2:1 from household waste. Figures published in February 2011 (see story) suggested that the percentage of B2B WEEE being recycled was as low as 5.14%.


Ms Keal stated that although the figures for B2B WEEE recycling seemed low, many businesses are actively involved in reusing electrical equipment and WRAP is currently exploring ways to raise the amount of B2B WEEE that is recycled. She said: “It is thought that a lot of business EEE is reused therefore not becoming WEEE, WRAP is also looking at opportunities to increase B2B WEEE collections and recycling through raising awareness and pilot activity.”



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