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What does the 15 year ‘Looking Back to Look Forward’ essay tell us about the WEEE sector?

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15 year milestone for WEEE sector

Much has been achieved in the fifteen years since the implementation of the first Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations in the UK. From a standing start a national network of collection points operated by local authorities, producers, retailers and many other organisations has been established and in excess of 9.0 million tonnes of WEEE has been collected, treated, recycled and recovered.

During this time there have been significant changes in the composition of WEEE, product technology and our use of electricals, particularly during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the WEEE sector has successfully adapted to manage this. For instance, through changes to collection infrastructure and treatment requirements, including the introduction of mandatory in-store take back of WEEE for larger retailers.

To mark this sector milestone – REPIC has released a research essay titled: ‘Looking Back to Look Forward’. The essay considers the last 15 years and provides a fresh and well-informed perspective on the influencing trends for EEE going onto the market and WEEE made available for collection.

What does the essay tell us about the WEEE system?

Change is nothing new to the WEEE sector, the speed, scale and impact of a variety of fundamental changes; digitalisation, other new and innovative product technologies, and changes in consumer purchasing habits have all undeniably transformed the landscape over the last 15 years.

This new research essay by REPIC, titled: “Looking Back to Look Forward” highlights the rapidly changing landscape and key events which have influenced EEE placed on the market (POM) and WEEE available for collection over the last 15 years.

The trends in the flow of EEE and WEEE identified in the research essay

Despite the upward trend in the amount of EEE placed on the market, and increases in WEEE collection targets, most notably in 2017, the amount of WEEE made available for collection has not increased.

REPIC’s review of the data from the last 15 years illustrates the non-linear relationship between the two and the reasons for this. It also considers how WEEE arises and is collected, and activities that take place away from the WEEE system.

Understanding the past is a crucial part in planning the future WEEE system

Commenting on the essay, Louise Grantham, Chief Executive at REPIC, adds: “Understanding the past is essential if we are to plan for the future. We need to know how much WEEE is likely to arise, who will be collecting it, required treatment capacity and types of technology needed to treat it and the resources (materials) that will be generated from treatment.

“The COVID-19 pandemic in particular demonstrated that WEEE is different to many other wastes, in that the amount of EEE placed on the market in a year does not necessarily influence the amount of WEEE made available for collection in that year. In fact, there is a significant gap between the two figures, but this does not mean that the WEEE system is unsuccessful.

“We need to establish alternative measures to determine what success looks like and where policy interventions may be required to influence this. As there are many interdependent and discrete factors influencing the amount of EEE POM and WEEE made available for collection, the use of a WEEE collection target to measure success no longer fits with the objective of delivering a more circular economy.”

Complexities of the WEEE system that affect both EEE and WEEE

Readers of the essay will be provided with graphical analysis of data from the last 15 years that clearly presents the complexities of the WEEE system and the many different factors that affect the amount of EEE POM and WEEE made available for collection.

The analysis of the data highlights that any further amendments to the WEEE system should take account of the changing nature of EEE and WEEE, the influence of actors outside the system and be sufficiently agile to respond to fluctuations in both economic, social and technological changes.

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