Collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in the first quarter of 2020 appears broadly on track to meet initial targets set by Defra prior to the coronavirus-enforced lockdown.
Figures published today show 134,610 tonnes of household WEEE was collected between January and March 2020. This is approximately 25% of the initial collection target of 537,976 tonnes, set by Defra in early March (see letsrecycle.com story).
The figures compare favourably with the same period in 2019, when a total of 123,489 tonnes was collected (see letsrecycle.com story).
Louise Grantham is the chief executive of the compliance scheme REPIC. She told letsrecycle.com: “The last week of the quarter was affected by the Covid-19 lockdown which resulted in the temporary closure of many WEEE collection sites and activities.
“It is therefore encouraging that total household WEEE collections in the quarter were slightly ahead of the 2020 target.
“The data also reports an increase in collections when compared to the same quarter in 2019; however, this seems largely reflective of the implementation of the revised small mixed WEEE and LHA protocols.
“Total EEE placed on the market has decreased slightly in the period, with small increases in the large household appliance, display and cooling categories being offset by reductions in most of the small mixed WEEE categories.”
The encouraging progress towards the overall total is largely thanks to the tonnage of large household equipment collected, as shown in the table below. Figures have been rounded to the nearest whole tonne.
Targets for the collection of WEEE have been missed in three consecutive years (see letsrecycle.com story).
The first quarter data offers a first glimpse at how schemes are progressing towards targets in comparison to previous years.
“We are facing an uncertain outlook as the sector works together to manage the operational changes necessitated by Covid-19″
If compliance schemes and obligated businesses have insufficient recycling evidence to meet their WEEE collection targets for the year, they usually have to pay a compliance fee. However, the coronavirus pandemic has led to uncertainty.
Mrs Grantham told letsrecycle.com: “We are facing an uncertain outlook as the sector works together to manage the operational changes necessitated by Covid-19.
“Whilst many WEEE collection activities have restarted, the nature of the changes required means achievement of the 2020 target currently seems unlikely.
“We are fortunate that the UK WEEE regime provides the option of a compliance fee as a way for producer compliance schemes to comply in the event there is insufficient WEEE available for collection.
“The year will be financially challenging for all organisations and we welcome Defra’s commitment that it will ‘absolutely take account of the actual impacts that Covid-19 has had on collections during the year’ when setting a compliance fee methodology.”
The data covers the period between January and March 2020, and so only accounts for about one week of the coronavirus-enforced lockdown.
In May, leading figures in the WEEE sector warned lockdown restrictions were expected to have a significant impact on the tonnages of WEEE collected in the second quarter of 2020 (see letsrecycle.com story).
Nigel Harvey is chief executive of compliance scheme Recolight. He told letsrecycle.com: “The Q1 data only includes about one week of lockdown. That means it does not reveal the huge drop in collections in April, as both local authority and commercial WEEE collections ground to a halt.
“And, intriguingly, the total Q1 tonnage collected is almost exactly 25% of the initial target proposed by the government before it reduced the target to take account of the Covid-19 crisis.
“Q1 collections of waste lamps have held up well – they are only 6% down on the tonnage collected in Q1 2019.
“Clearly Q2 will be a very different story, and we expect the Q2 data, when published in September, to show aggregate annual collections down at least 30% on the prior year.”
Mr Harvey’s pessimism was echoed by Robbie Staniforth, head of policy at compliance scheme Ecosurety. He told letsrecycle.com: “The outlook for 2020 is fairly bleak in terms of meeting targets. Quarter one saw very little impact of Covid-19 on operations at household recycling sites.
“We know April and May will be fallow months”
“We know April and May will be fallow months as many sites either had to close or deprioritise the acceptance of WEEE items.
“It highlights just how reliant the UK WEEE compliance system is on council operated sites.
“It is clear that citizens need a greater diversity of options for disposing of old items to be reused or recycled.”
The importance of the reopening of household waste recycling centres was highlighted by Paul Van Danzig, policy director at the Wastepack Group. Mr Van Danzig said: “The figures are good in one sense as for the first quarter the proportion of material to target collected is positive. It is going to be interesting to see what the second quarter data looks like as this will doubtlessly be impacted by the coronavirus crisis and could result in a number of challenges for the rest of the year.”
He added: “It is good to see HWRCs are reopening and we are hoping that as much WEEE as possible will be generated through these sites and not lost to the residual waste stream”.