Recycling no longer restricted to paper, plastics, cans and cardboard

MunYin Liu

April 2007 The landfills in the UK and Europe are getting increasingly filled up with electrical and electronic goods. Fortunately, the WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) will hopefully go some way to slowing down this process. This Directive is essentially set in place to recycle, recover and reuse as much equipment as possible. Electrical and electronic equipment is a fairly broad definition, and rightly so, as portables such as mobile phones and MP3 players fall into this description. However, although the directive covers these, it is mostly concerned with larger equipment, such as TVs and domestic appliances like refrigerators and washing machines items that we cannot possibly go without. The impact of the WEEE Directive is huge, and will affect everyone from the producer right through to the end users.

Producers and manufacturers will soon become liable for branding and marking their products as WEEE. This will involve displaying the crossed out wheelie bin diagram, a producer identifier mark and a date to prove that the product has been placed on the market after 13th August 2005. Not only that, but producers will also by now be a part of an approved Producer Compliance Scheme. These Compliance Schemes will then collect data from their members regarding all of the types and quantities of new products placed on the UK market. Environmental agencies will then receive reports from the Schemes on a quarterly basis detailing how much has been collected. By doing so, it means that manufacturers cannot fail to conform to the directive.

Retailers and distributors will also find themselves with implications. Under the WEEE Directive, they will now be required to provide some sort of recollection process for any electrical goods that they sell. However they do it is entirely down to their discretion, but they must remain convenient for the customer. In store returns when a customer is purchasing to replace a product is fine. Local authorities are not officially obliged to adhere to the directive, but it is widely expected that they will comply via the UK's civic amenity sites. Local authorities will be able to sign up voluntarily, meaning that their amenity sites become Designated Collection Facilities (DCFs). Only then will they need to comply with the WEEE Directive's strict code of practice. For doing all this, they will receive funding from the Distributor Take-back Scheme and will have their WEEE taken away for them. They will also no longer be financially responsible for disposing of WEEE at their sites.

Another stakeholder group that does not have any legal obligation to formally act under the WEEE directive is the waste management industry. However, it is possible for the industry to get involved by providing some form of compliance scheme with producers. To ensure that the treatment undertaken by the industry meets WEEE directive regulations, waste management licences will need to be obtained from various official authorities. Organisations in the industry who do not wish to supply any form of services will be seen simply as business users of EEE (Electrical and Electronic Equipment), who do have the legal obligation to act under Duty of Care.

End users in the household will have an enormous role to play in the whole WEEE directive. After all, most EEE will be used in the home, and when consumers look to replace their faulty equipment, they will need to do something with their older goods. There is no legal obligation to comply with the WEEE directive, but home end users will be strongly encouraged to recycle their EEE in a way that's suitable. Unfortunately, home end users are not entitled to receive free collection of any electrical waste, but retailers should be able to offer some sort of take back scheme. Lists of publicly accessible collection sites should also be made easily available.

It's fair to say that the WEEE Directive will affect just about everybody, as EEE are a big part of every day life. Brown, grey and white goods will all be under scrutiny to ensure that they fully comply with the rulings. Due to the ever increasing range of options and reduction in prices, consumers are changing their mobile phones, TVs, fridge freezers and tumble dryers more and more often, and that in turn leads to more waste. Manufacturers are trying to keep up with this cycle, so the resources, in particular metals and plastics, and raw materials that they're using to keep pace are putting an enormous strain on the environment.

The WEEE Directive is certainly no sure-fire way to save the globe from overflowing land fill sites. Although informal recycling of WEEE does exist, it is by no means safe. People may in fact be harming themselves by collecting others' unwanted fridges for parts. Without proper equipment to extract wiring from cables, burning through the rubber casing causes toxic fumes. Potentially, it means that the WEEE Directive could save lives as well as the environment.
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2006 All rights reserved
This article is brought to you by Kitchen Science, a trusted supplier of a wide range of kitchen appliances including American fridge freezers.

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