THE Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive imposes obligations on producers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to take financial responsibility for the environmental impact of EEE placed on the market.
Recently, the EU has recast WEEE legislation over concerns recycling is not sufficient. Around one third of EEE is collected and treated, with much of the remainder ending up in landfills or sub-standard treatment sites outside the EU.
If WEEE is not treated safely it can pose environmental and health risks. Readers may recall Press coverage highlighting problems with EEE being exported to Africa, India and China and ending up in locations where no facilities exist for safe recycling. Local people, including young children, work to obtain metals of value while exposing themselves to hazardous substances present in much EEE. A key aim of the recast directive is to tighten the regulation of shipment and treatment of WEEE in non-EU countries so that the burden of proof is on exporters to demonstrate goods are being shipped for repair or reuse.
The most significant change is new recycling targets. From 2016, the minimum recycling collection rate will be 45% of the average amount of EEE placed on a member state’s market in the preceding three years. From 2019, this target rises to 65%.
At present, the UK only officially collects about 32%. However, industry is optimistic that the targets can be met as a great deal of WEEE falls outside the system – for example, large items ending up as scrap metal and other products which are re-used through informal second hand sales, such as those on eBay.