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2019: A Year in WEEE-view

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Late-2018 saw the launch of the Government’s Waste and Resources strategy, which outlined long term plans to minimise waste, promote resource efficiency and move the country towards a circular economy.

Importantly, the strategy presented a timeline of key milestones to achieve the following objectives:

  • Double resource productivity by 2050
  • Eliminate avoidable waste of all kinds by 2050
  • Eliminate avoidable plastic waste over the lifetime of the 25 Year Environment Plan
  • Work towards eliminating food waste to landfill by 2030
  • Work towards all plastic packaging placed on the market being recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025

The timeline outlined the start of a consultation on extended producer responsibility (EPR) for packaging in 2019, which would form the basis for changes to come into force in 2023. Defra’s response to the consultation, published in July, introduced a principle requiring producers to cover the full net costs of end of life packaging.

While still relatively high level and not applicable to WEEE, if implemented as proposed there would be a conflict between recovering full net costs and operating the ‘modulated fees’ system that encourages eco-design and material choice in a product’s ‘pre-life’. (For more on the implications of full net costs for electronics producers, click here for Mark Burrows-Smith’s article for letsrecycle.co.uk on establishing the ‘bookends’ for EPR.)

As part of the Waste and Resources strategy, the Government also laid out its thoughts on moving away from weight-based to impact-based targets for recycling and waste management. To help evidence the product flow data gap for setting tonnage-based targets, REPIC released the results of its annual consumer survey at the beginning of 2019. The survey explored the difference in EEE reuse and WEEE recycling behaviours across generations, and revealed the growing influence of the resale market on EEE and WEEE flows.

The survey demonstrated a requirement for a greater understanding of what happens to products on their journey to end-of-life stage, how long it takes for them to enter the waste stream and the point at which used EEE becomes waste.

Results from the survey informed the development of the first report in the REPIC Industry Insights Series, ‘Understanding WEEE and EEE flows to support implementation of policy objectives.’ The report, available to download from www.repic-weee-insights.co.uk, highlights limitations in estimating WEEE availability and how filling the EEE flow data gap can support improved target setting and the implementation of EPR.

Given the Q3 figures recently released by the Environment Agency, it seems very likely that most 2019 household WEEE collection targets will be missed. As we move into 2020, it’s more important than ever that we paint a clearer picture of the use-phase of EEE in order to set realistic targets and identify policies for optimising routes to accessing additional available WEEE.

We were encouraged by the news in 2019 of a WEEE Fund project to gain a better understanding of EEE and WEEE flows to inform future government policy and target setting. The results of the study will land in 2020, and will no doubt deliver valuable insights.

Indeed, 2020 looks set to be another interesting year for recycling industry stakeholders. For WEEE, we are expecting the launch of a Government consultation on EPR – which may have major implications for WEEE management and producer compliance schemes.

Plans to revise legislation for batteries, the launch of a new national consumer WEEE communications campaign to drive behavioural change and the 2019 compliance fee announcement will also contribute to another eventful year for industry stakeholders.

Beyond wider industry and regulatory activity, 2019 has been an eventful year for us here at REPIC. Most recently, we’ve welcomed a bright new cohort of LARAC scholars from local authorities across the country, and supported the UK’s first compressor recycling facility in partnership with Envirocom.

We look forward to continue working with our partners during 2020 to deliver optimal environmental outcomes for WEEE, batteries and packaging which will maximise resource efficiency and minimise waste.

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