Ahead of an upcoming rise in the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) targets for 2019, a downward trend in the amount collected suggests the UK may face challenges in meeting the goal.
In 2019, the overall target for WEEE collection will jump from the equivalent of around 45% of the weight of new products placed onto the market over the last three years, to a potential 65% aim.
The higher targets are a part of the revised WEEE Directive, which came into force in August 2012 and became effective seven months later
The new Directive introduced a collection target of 45% of new electronic equipment sold which applied from 2016 and, as a second step from 2019, a target of 65% of equipment sold, or 85% of WEEE generated.
Member States are able to choose which one of these two equivalent ways to measure the target they wish to report.
Crucially for the UK, the rising targets come at a time when data suggests there has been a drop in the amount of WEEE collected from traditional routes such as collections from local authority CA sites.
Figures published to date suggest that the 2016 45% target was comfortably met, with 1,160,000 tonnnes of WEEE recorded as having been recycled in the UK against a target level of 733,000 tonnes. However, with the target potentially set to rise to as much as 1.2 million tonnes by 2019, this is likely to become more challenging.
Excluding non-obligated WEEE and substantiated estimates, Q3 statistics for 2017 released in December showed that 138,000 tonnes of WEEE was recycled in the three months between July and September. This was only slightly up from the previous two quarters, which stood at approximately 135,000 tonnes each.
It means in total, just over 408,000 tonnes of WEEE was collected by producer compliance schemes in the first three quarters of 2017. This is down from over 446,000 tonnes in the first three quarters of last year, a drop of around 8%.
The first three quarters of 2017 had a total of over 92,000 non-obligated WEEE, bringing the total recorded as having been collected to around 500,000 tonnes.
EU member states are required to collect information on WEEE collected through all routes, with the UK including substantiated estimates of the amount of WEEE treated through light iron scrap within its data.
In the UK, recyclers operating on behalf of producers are required to submit data on the amount of WEEE collected from consumers, which is used alongside information on the collection of non-obligated business WEEE and estimates of WEEE from other sources to mark progress toward the EU target.
However, it appears this target may be difficult to meet for the UK. Upon release of the Q3 WEEE data , which suggested that producer compliance schemes could fail to meet the 2017 target, WEEE producer compliance schemes expressed their concern (see letsrecycle.com story).
This often leads to a clash of opinions in the industry. The plant operators reason that the lower than expected WEEE recycling rates in 2017 are largely a result of differences in the way the waste equipment is being defined and recorded by regulators and also because of illegal exports. This approach contrasts to a view held by some producer compliance schemes that reduced amounts of new products being bought – and in turn reduced volumes of old products going as WEEE – is the reason for the lower recycling rates so far in 2017.