The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) was introduced into UK law in January 2007 and now forms an important part of the Environment Agency’s plans for the future. But after more than three years how many of us, the public, really know what it means or have even heard of it? A trip to the local tip suggests not many.
The WEEE Directive aims to reduce the amount of electrical equipment in circulation by encouraging everyone to re-use, recycle and recover it. It also aims to improve the environmental performance of businesses that manufacture and supply electrical equipment. By keeping WEEE separate from other waste, it can be treated, the hazardous substances can be removed, and then a large amount of the remaining waste can be recycled instead of being sent to landfill sites. Overall, a much more efficient and environmentally friendly process.
Responsibilities regarding this directive differ between homeowner and retailer. Homeowners are technically not banned from deposing of WEEE in their bins, but a network of new WEEE collection points have been created in order to make it easier for us all to recycle our old equipment. There is also the option of an in-store take-back facility offered by retailers. When retailers sell EEE (Electrical, electronic equipment) to the public, they now have to ensure that the customer can return their WEEE free of charge. The exchange doesn’t even have to take place in-store because retailers are able to set-up alternative collection systems, as long as they remain convenient for the customer.
Retailers also have to ask producers for their unique producer number when they supply EEE, proving that they have joined an approved compliance scheme and are helping to fund and support the WEEE Directive. It is now in the interest of these producers to carefully consider how their products will be taken apart at their end-of-life. Recycling can be expensive and is a cost that now has to be burdened by the producer- usually the manufacturer or importer- making cost efficiency in all areas, especially supply chain and distribution, more and more important.
It is not clear whether or not the price of EEE will eventually increase in order to cover these costs. But what is clear at the current time is that not enough members of the public are aware that this directive is even in force. We should all be conscious of our ability to ‘WEEE cycle’ old, unwanted electrical equipment, and in the process help to increase cost-efficiency within supply chains and do our bit to help the environment.