The Environment Agency has written to more than 1,000 operators who handle waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) detailing the steps that must be taken when processing hazardous material.
Operators have been asked to review their procedures and make any changes necessary to ensure they are compliant. This request follows the publication of guidance in June on how WEEE and approved authorised treatment facility (AATF) treatment outputs should be classified in relation to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (see letsrecycle.com story).
An investigation conducted by the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER), in cooperation with Defra and the Agency led to the conclusion that, other than non-cooling large domestic appliances (LDA), most WEEE must be classed as hazardous unless an assessment has been made that can demonstrate otherwise.
The Agency’s letter reads: “We recognise that businesses are currently dealing with the impacts of Covid-19 and will take that into account when reviewing and assessing compliance with the legal requirements alongside the pro-active steps operators have taken to achieve compliance.
“We are advising operators, through communications and the revised guidance, to review their procedures and operations to ensure they are compliant. From a regulatory perspective our next step is to start to assess compliance across the WEEE sector and where non-compliances are identified to address this.”
The Agency’s full letter can be read here. Other enforcement agencies are expected to provide similar guidance with a few differences at a national level.
The Agency says operators who handle WEEE have a statutory duty of care that applies to waste produced, transported, received, treated, brokered or dealt. This responsibility does not end when the waste is transferred to someone else.
The Agency says its initial focus will be on the mismanagement of hazardous and POPs waste.
The letter continues: “Our initial compliance assessment focus will be on businesses who mis-describe hazardous and POPs waste, leading to it being subsequently mismanaged and/or exported without notification by them or those they transfer the waste to.
“Where we identify non-compliance, we will work with operators to bring them into compliance and where necessary take enforcement action.”
“We hope that enforcement will be applied on a consistent and proportionate basis”
Phil Conran is chair of the AATF Forum, an informal body that represents the interests of the UK WEEE treatment sector. He told letsrecycle.com: “The AATF Forum has been engaged with the EA on the impact of POPs since early 2019 and welcomes the letter as a very positive move towards ensuring that everyone involved in the handling of WEEE operates on a level playing field.
“We hope that enforcement will be applied on a consistent and proportionate basis, but implementation of the changes required to be compliant will not without its challenges.”
Classification and description
The Agency says operators must ensure their wastes are correctly classified and described. The presence of hazardous chemicals and POPs must be made clear in the waste description. Waste received from other people must also be checked to ensure it is classified and described correctly.
To enable a classification code to be assigned an item of WEEE the law requires that an operator first undertakes an assessment of the chemicals present, the Agency says. It is important to note the law does not allow an operator to assign a non-hazardous code to an item of WEEE without this assessment, the Agency says.
, tumble driers, dishwashers and cookers. It should be noted that if these types of LDA are processed alongside other category 1 devices other advice applies.
WEEE devices that are hazardous waste but non-POPs waste include fridges, freezers, chillers and air-conditioning units. WEEE devices that are hazardous waste and POPs waste include small mixed WEEE, display devices and category 1-7 devices other than LDA white goods of a household type, from household or business sources.
The Agency has also published guidance for operators who remove or separate plastic components, cables or cable plastics or printed circuit boards from WEEE.
Concerns have been raised within the industry that most containers of LDA from household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) will contain more than just washing machines, tumble driers, dishwashers and cookers.
The Agency says electrical devices containing POPs can be re-used provided they are not, and were never previously, waste.
However, if at any point an electrical device containing POPs becomes waste, it becomes subject to the legal requirement to destroy or irreversibly transform the POP, the Agency says. Those who receive or prepare WEEE for reuse are not allowed to reuse such a device and it cannot cease to be waste, even if it is in working order.
This means an item of WEEE other than LDA white goods and refrigerators cannot cease to be a waste or be reused unless an operator has undertaken an assessment to demonstrate that POPs are not present in that device or item of equipment.
30 September, WEEE Conference, Virtual Online Event
WEEE will be on the agenda at the Virtual WEEE Conference, to be held on the 30 September. More information can be found here.