Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is a complex mixture of materials and components because of the functions that these products perform. The extraction and processing of the metals and plastics used in many appliances come with an embodied energy and carbon, and some components contain hazardous materials. It’s hugely important for the environment that we reuse, recycle and treat end of life products properly.
Since the introduction of the WEEE Directive, we have seen the overall amount of WEEE collected in the UK increase. The use of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) – where the producers and retailers of products are responsible for the end of life costs of collecting, treating and recycling those products – is a key feature of the WEEE and Waste Framework Directives, and looks set to feature prominently in Defra’s Resource and Waste Strategy. To date PCS targets have been used as the main vehicle to implement EPR.
Last year (2017) less EEE was placed on the market (POM) and the overall producer compliance scheme (PCS)collection target was missed for the first time by 16%. REPIC, the largest WEEE PCS in tonnage terms, felt that the time was right to invest in improving data and understanding on the trends between product sales and WEEE collected, and the factors which influence what happens to products at end of life. This is particularly important in the wider context of the circular economy and helping industry plan.
REPIC commissioned arms-length research with the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University. We partnered with the Pentland Centre because it links the Management School with their Environment Centre and has specialisms in supply chains, systemic thinking and behavioural change.
The research team set out to independently investigate and report on existing models and methodologies for quantifying WEEE generated (WG). With the objective of identifying the most reliable for forecasting WEEE in relation to EEE POM and the potential to include additional socio-economic factors, with the ultimate aim to develop a new dynamic model for quantifying EEE POM and WG. At the same time, they reviewed what data is available to populate the model and to describe what happens to the WEEE which is not collected through the PCS system.
REPIC CEO and Lancaster University researcher discuss why this research was commissioned and the surprising results from the research project.
Why is this research important?
In 2019, the UK WEEE collection targets will increase to either 65% of EEE products POM or 85% of WG. Defra has always taken a pragmatic approach to setting PCS targets and using substantiate estimates to meet the current 45% POM targets. It is clear that to meet the increased UK targets, higher PCS targets and the inclusion of more substantiated estimates need to be considered. To implement either or both of these options, requires more accurate data on what happens to unwanted EEE and WEEE. How much of this is down to undesirable leakage: that which is being thrown out in residual waste, dealt with illegally, and/or which isn’t treated to the right standards? How much of this is down to desirable unrecorded activities such as second-hand use or reuse which contribute to a circular economy? How do we ensure we put mechanisms in place which target the undesirable not the desirable WEEE or EEE?
We also need to better understand what influences EEE coming onto the market and how long it stays in the home or business. Consumer demand and technology is evolving at a fast pace – we’re seeing new product types and the evolution of existing products with trends towards bigger, smaller, lighter, smarter, autonomous, cordless – this all affects product weights going onto and coming off the market. Marry this with behavioural impacts where consumers have a variety of options available to them when they longer have use for a product, which include storing, giving away, selling, paying for collection, putting in the bin, taking to the HWRC etc. These behaviours are influenced by perceptions, attitude, affluence, personal data concerns, size of product, and value of the product. And the value of the product and its components also make it susceptible to theft. All these factors have a bearing on what WEEE is made available for collection through the official channels and can be used to meet the targets.
What does the research hope to achieve?
The research set out to develop a prototype model for the UK which would help to predict WEEE generated more accurately taking into account a greater number of econometric and market factors. With a more accurate WEEE generated picture, it is then possible to better quantify the potential leakage from the system. However, this work alone is a theoretical exercise without improving data on unreported flows. For this reason the Pentland Centre has also recommended that further work is undertaken in this area. This will inform the further development of the final model which will more accurately describe the relationship between EEE POM, WG and WEEE flows and how this is impacted upon by socio-economic and market changes.
Ultimately, generating more robust forecasting methods would mean a move away from a simplistic “one product in and one product out” assumption. Instead developing a dynamic model that responds to stock changes and market fluctuations.
The model will include:
- Socio-economic indicators such as inflation, consumer confidence and number of products in households and businesses
- New EEE placed on the market – recognising market drivers affecting trends in sales, as well as adjustments in the unit weight of products
- Mass balance and product residence times
- Unreported flows
By releasing the initial research to the industry, REPIC hopes that the industry can work together to unpick the complexity, improve the data and produce reliable forecasts by which the sector can plan.
Dr Alison Stowell, principal investigator, from the Pentland Centre, Lancaster University, comments: “The initial research has helped us to identify a state of the art model and the requirements to improve available data. Before modelling, it is evident that further research is required around unreported flows, mass balance, lifespan and residence times. This deeper dive would provide more accurate information on the WEEE which will be generated in future. This is especially important given the UK’s Circular Economy and Clean Growth strategy, which includes ambitious targets to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050.”
REPIC has made the summary of the findings available to download here.
Round table discussion
Following the publication of the full report, REPIC hosted an industry round table in July 2018. Invited stakeholders from the UK’s EEE production and WEEE reuse and recycling sector convened for a debate to discuss the evidential basis for WEEE target setting and how better intelligence reflecting real-world trends can support future WEEE policy making.
The roundtable event took place on Tuesday 10 July in London, and included people involved in WEEE from government, waste management, compliance schemes, EEE producers, reuse and recycling organisations, retailers and academia. Delegates discussed the issue of identifying reported and unreported WEEE flows and how to set accurate WEEE producer compliance targets reflecting socio-economic trends.
Attendees included Graeme Vickery and John Walsh from Defra, Susanne Baker from Tech UK, Andrew Mullen from Beko, Anthony Sant from AO, Cris Stephenson from Environcom, Nigel Harvey from Recolight, David Roman from British Heart Foundation, Dina Thain from Valpak, Alison Stowell and Dmitry Yumashev from Lancaster University Management School, and REPIC’s Mark Burrows Smith.
Soundbites from the event can be viewed on REPIC’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCViLrtmCS7XjtUc5tRdQ4IQ