14 June 2018 by Elizabeth Slow

Conquering WEEE’s Everest

 Anthony Sant, sales and marketing director for AO Recycling, offers his reflections on the WEEE Conference 2018.

I have attended and spoken at the WEEE Conference for a number of years now. While it’s always something I am happy to support, I have sometimes come home feeling a degree of despair.

For too many years the WEEE industry has operated in silos. Individual companies have had their own agendas, and by fighting for their own causes they have often lost sight of the bigger picture. However, this year felt different.

Anthony Sant, sales and marketing director for AO Recycling

2018 was the second conference I have attended as director of AO Recycling (before that for a number of years I represented The Recycling Group at conference). And it is the first I have attended since AO launched its fridge and LDA recycling plant at Telford in Shropshire last summer.

Take-back

It’s been a busy 12 months, setting out AO’s case for change in the sector – and this conference was another opportunity to make our case to policy makers and industry leaders. We first put this to government in December last year in the Document for Change published in response to a consultation on the WEEE regulations. This is our ‘road map’ for switching to a WEEE collection and recycling system that encourages retailer take-back for Large Domestic Appliances and Cooling.

I came away from the conference optimistic that the industry has finally accepted that its shortcomings and problems will only be resolved if we act together and focus on a common goal. It’s my view that the UK’s WEEE collection target of 65% placed on the market for the preceding three years by 2019 is achievable through physical collection of WEEE – and I got a real sense that we can build a consensus around this figure, but to achieve this it requires all companies, people and organisations in the industry to work together.

Agreeing and working towards this target will demonstrate that we can put aside competition and work together on the issues that matter to get results.

Clear and specific visible targets, and an understanding of the consequences of failing to achieve them by physical collection, can be the driving force behind business and individual success. And without careful planning and preparation, these goals are unlikely to be met.

Sir Edmund Hillary and his team didn’t become the first to scale Everest in 1952 without a massive amount of planning and willingness to succeed. They certainly didn’t achieve this great endeavour by just ‘going out for a stroll’.

An ability to learn from mistakes and to not be put off by failure was also important. The goal was eventually achieved, but not on the first attempt. The first expedition, in 1951, failed and some didn’t return. But with additional planning, and the drive to achieve the goal, he did reach the top. As an industry we are now facing our own Everest moment. So what do we need to do?

Target

Before we look at how we can achieve the 65% target, we must decide how important it is to the UK and to the WEEE industry.

And there is no point in some of the industry making the effort to achieve the 2019 goal, if the rest sit back and wait to see what happens. The danger is, behind closed doors, they have no intention of doing their bit. We can’t let this happen.

We must highlight those that aren’t working to the common goal and those who are sharing the burden fairly. Who are the heroes and who are the villains? This will require transparency around who is reaching their obligation through the physical collection of WEEE and who is not.

It will not be acceptable just to wait for opportunities to pick up ‘cheap’ evidence to meet obligations or use the compliance fee because it is easier.

We also have to be mindful on costs. It is all too easy to solve a problem by throwing money at it. We have to create sustainable methods of collection and treatment that the companies who fund these regulations appreciate, understand and have confidence in, but most importantly they appreciate the value of what is being done.

As an industry we have to prepare for the challenge. Different categories of WEEE will require different solutions to increase collection rates. There is no ‘silver bullet’ or one size fits all approach. If only it were that simple. But who said anything worth doing was always easy? And if we can summon a willingness for all parties to join the cause, I believe we can achieve the 65% collection target in this timeframe.

The next step is for all stakeholders to get together and work out how the target is going to be achieved. If we could have an indication of what the target is likely to be, broken down by category, each sector will know the individual role it has to play.

“The next step is for all stakeholders to get together and work out how the target is going to be achieved.”


Anthony Sant
AO Recycling

This will require discussions between PCSs, Local Authorities and AATFs that specialise in specific WEEE categories. Sustainable strategies will be needed for each area. These will then need to be fed back into the overall plan and this plan must include measures to raise consumer awareness.

Collective goal

All stakeholders will need to buy into the process; ensuring all they are working towards the collective goal. Any stakeholders who are not playing their part should be highlighted in industry meetings.

The plan can then be presented to DEFRA to assist it in setting targets by category that all within the industry are happy with.  Anyone who isn’t happy will at least not have the excuse that they were excluded from the process.

By the end of 2019 we will then have demonstrable proof of what can be achieved. We will know if our planning and preparation worked. And hopefully we will have learned from our failures and mistakes. And even if we haven’t yet reached the summit, we will certainly be well on the way to doing so*. And maybe all of us will be environmental heroes, not villains.

*A measure of Sir Edmund’s determination is summed up in the quote he made after the 1951 failed attempt: “I WILL COME AGAIN AND CONQUER YOU BECAUSE AS A MOUNTAIN YOU CAN’T GROW, BUT AS A HUMAN I CAN.”

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