26 February 2021 by James Langley

Online retailers may have duty to collect WEEE

VIDEO REPORT: The government is to consider requiring online retailers and marketplaces to collect old electronics from consumers to ensure their obligations are the same as those of physical retailers.

Published today (26 February), the commitment forms part of the government’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s (EAC) report on electronic waste in the circular economy (see letsrecycle.com story).

The UK throws away 155,000 tonnes of small WEEE every year

Philip Dunne, MP for Ludlow and chair of the EAC, said: “Levelling the playing field for online giants and physical retailers in the take-back of e-waste is important if we are to cut down on the amount of e-waste disposed of incorrectly.

“We need to make urgent improvements to the reuse and recycling of such products, and I am pleased that the government has recognised the role online retailers and marketplaces should play in taking increased responsibility for the e-waste streams they help generate.”

The EAC believes the move could make it easier for consumers to recycle old electrical items, while ensuring physical retailers are not at a disadvantage compared to online competitors.

The UK is said to throw away 155,000 tonnes of small waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) every year.

Philip Dunne, chair of the EAC, discusses the government’s response to his committee’s report on electronic waste in the circular economy with letsrecycle.com’s James Langley in the video below.

Kerbside collection

The government is also consulting on rolling out kerbside collections for WEEE around the country. It says it will explore ways to enhance retailer obligations to provide more collection points for WEEE for consumers.

The EAC said it welcomed the acknowledgment that more needs to be done to collect small electrical items.

Material Focus, a not-for-profit organisation funded by the WEEE compliance fee, is currently carrying out research into local authority kerbside collections for small mixed WEEE as part of its Recycle Your Electricals campaign (see letsrecycle.com story). Recycling officers have been invited to participate in the research to help inform Defra’s impact assessment for the upcoming WEEE Regulations review.

Raw materials

However, the government has rejected a recommendation from the EAC for targets on the recovery of critical raw materials and retaining value from old electronics.

Industrial gold waste from electronic components (picture: Shutterstock)

The EAC says it heard during its inquiry that a continued focus on weight-based targets could overlook the valuable materials that weigh less. It said in its report that the global supply of these materials was unstable and at current rates they may eventually run out. Retrieving them for re-use from WEEE is “crucial”, the EAC says.

Mr Dunne said: “The government has failed to acknowledge the importance of extracting precious metals from old electronics, dismissing the Committee’s finding that weight-based targets are insufficient to ensure the extraction of many of these light metals.

“These metals, including tungsten and cobalt, are crucial in the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels – and their continued supply is therefore vital to making net zero Britain a reality.

“But we are at serious risk of creating supply shortages if we fail to retrieve these rare materials from old devices.”

He added: “Our report made the case for quick and decisive action to tackle the e-waste tsunami. While we are pleased that some of our recommendations are being taken forward, the government seems to ignore the urgency of getting a grip on the growing e-waste problem.”

VAT

The EAC also said it was “disappointed” that the government had rejected its recommendation that VAT on repair services should be reduced.

The government argued that any resultant loss in tax revenue would have to be balanced elsewhere. The committee believes that the measures would have reduced the financial barriers to the repair of electrical items.

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