A 60 second summary of WEEE in 2019 and what’s planned for 2020

5 November 2019

By Archana Pisharody, Consultant at Resource Futures

With the review of the existing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation expected by the end of this year in 2019 and a consultation on WEEE and batteries in 2020, the industry will be gearing up for some significant changes to the country’s current WEEE management system of the country.

The 2018 amendments to WEEE legislation

The most recent update on the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 (as amended) came in March last year with The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (Amendment) Regulations 2018. The new regulations mandate all Producer Compliance Schemes (PCS) to join the PCS Balancing System or PBS, a system that manages and funds the collection of excess WEEE (otherwise known as e-waste) from designated collection facilities run by local authorities. The mandatory PBS ensures that the statutory demand from all local authorities requiring clearance of WEEE from their sites is met by any compliance scheme(s).

The amendment additionally includes a requirement to report quantities of WEEE sent for reuse in addition to treatment. A review of the effectiveness of the legislation (also known as a Post Implementation Review) expected to come out later in 2019 is likely to set the tone for changes coming in 2020.

Open Scope – broader categorisation of WEEE

2019 also saw the implementation of the open scope principle for WEEE reporting. This brings all electrical and electronic equipment into scope (unless they qualify for an exemption or exclusion) albeit they still need to be categorised into the 14 categories being used till now while reporting. This potentially has implications for producers, who previously considered their products out of scope (e.g. all types of household lights; accessories that are not electrical themselves but required for the functioning of an electrical item such as wiring, microwave plates etc.). Further guidance on components, spare parts and accessories (non-electrical) are available from the Environment Agency.

Persistent Organic Pollutants / POPs – the challenge of lower thresholds

The issue of Persistent Organic Pollutants or POPs has resurfaced causing considerable upheaval and confusion in the industry. As the name suggests, POPs are a group of chemical compounds that persist in the environment for long periods of time and as a result are capable of bioaccumulation and biomagnification with the potential for harmful impacts on environmental and human health. Flame retardants often used in WEEE plastics are identified as POPs and have been regulated for their content in equipment by the Stockholm Convention.

A recent study (to be published soon) conducted by the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER) has resulted in the acceptable levels of POPs in waste materials being lowered, rendering many items including Small Mixed WEEE, Cathode Ray Tube TVs and screens and Flat Screen TVs hazardous. This means the POPs containing plastics in this equipment are unsuitable for traditional recycling processes and need to be treated through high-temperature incineration, a process that has limited capacity in the UK.

The overall impact of these changes in POPs regulations can negatively affect UK’s recycling rates, costs and the collection, storage, treatment and export of POPs containing equipment. A recent letter from the Environment Agency to the industry following the results of the ICER study, provides guidance on their stand on the issue of POPs in WEE.

In summary, equipment containing POPs beyond the threshold are no longer suitable for reuse or recycling bringing into question the country’s existing treatment capacity, our WEEE recycling targets and the possibility of diversion for reuse.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that an industry project group will be set up for further guidance on the matter and communications will be managed through POPSandWEEE@environment-agency.gov.uk.

Other key changes in WEEE for 2020

  • Current WEEE distributor takeback will cease
    As per an update from Defra at the 2019 WEEE Conference, the current WEEE distributor takeback schemes are likely to cease to operate from 31st October 2019. They are likely to be replaced by a redesigned system which is currently being deliberated on by retailers and will be open for public comments.
  • Likely information gathering on e-commerce, international shipments and compliance fees
    Some other areas of interest that the government will potentially gather views from the industry over the coming months include compliance on WEEE by e-commerce platforms, changes to the international waste shipment requirements and setting up of WEEE compliance fees.
  • Lots more WEEE consultations on the horizon plus WEEE aligning with batteries
    The consultations coming next year on WEEE and batteries are likely to focus on increased collections; reuse; eco-design principles and strategies; improved takeback of equipment, modulated fees for producers to reflect treatment and collection costs and finally, the potential for closer alignment of WEEE and battery regimes in the UK.

The Resource and Waste Strategy published by the government last year brought into focus the equitable responsibilities of the various players in the WEEE regime, the skewed success of battery collections based on lead-acid batteries and the shift in focus on eco-design and reuse. With the upcoming consultations towards the end of 2020, the UK WEEE management system could look very different in one to two years’ time.

Watch this space for more updates as they come.