The amount of waste produced every year in the UK causes environmental damage and the UK government has stated its intention to work towards a zero waste economy where all resources are re-used or recycled rather than dumped in landfill. Landfill is still the main type of waste disposal in the UK but with changing attitudes and practices the number of landfill sites is decreasing significantly.
It is now much easier for households and companies to recycle waste such as glass, cans, paper, cardboard, food and garden waste that would, until relatively recently, simply be placed in landfill. But electrical and electronic equipment that has come to the end of it’s life still poses a threat to the environment.
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations
Because of the growing problem of e-waste in a consumer society that expects to update their electronic goods on a regular basis, the UK government has introduced new laws to ensure businesses recover and recycle the electrical products they have produced, distributed or sold once they come to the end of their life.
The WEEE Regulations are UK laws incorporating EC legal requirements that set out the responsibility of retailers and distributors in complying with waste electrical and electronic equipment.
What is WEEE?
WEEE is waste electrical or electronic equipment and is any item or gadget that uses electricity via a plug or battery that has not, until now, generally been recycled. It is estimated that businesses and households throw away 2 million tonnes of WEEE waste every year.
That waste includes a range of materials such as plastics, mercury and lead which can pose environmental and health risks.
What is the WEEE Directive?
The European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive became European law in February 2003 designed to minimise the quantity of e-waste ending up in landfill. Under the WEEE Directive producers of non-household WEEE are required to recover, reuse, recycle and treat WEEE in compliance with UK and EU legislation.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations became law in the UK on 1st January 2014, replacing earlier regulations from 2006. These WEEE regulations mean that more products will be covered by the Directive from 1st January 2019.
WEEE disposal regulations were required in law in order to control the disposal of unwanted electrical and electronic equipment for social, economic and environmental reasons to ensure a better and more sustainable quality of life for everyone.
- 23% of e-waste produced in the UK is suitable for recycling
- Only 2% of e-waste is re-used
- Large household appliances represent around 50% of electrical waste
- Information and communications technology equipment accounts for roughly 30% of e-waste
- Consumer electronics represent approximately 10% of electronic waste
- E-waste contains more than 1000 different substances some of which are ‘hazardous’
- E-waste now makes up 5% of all municipal solid waste worldwide
- E-waste now constitutes almost the same quantity of waste as all plastic packaging
- E-waste is the fastest growing type of waste
- The amount of e-waste is growing 3 times faster than the amount of general waste.
WEEE Compliance – The Advantages
Recycling WEEE is good for the environment but there are also financial rewards to be had. Most e-waste contains valuable metals such as copper that can be extracted and re-used and some gadgets also contain small amounts of precious metals such as gold, silver and palladium in components such as circuit boards.
But apart from the more valuable components there is still plenty that can be recycled. For instance, around 99% of a normal PC contains re-usable materials such as:
- Glass from the monitor
- Metal from screws
- Plastic from the casing
- Steel from the casing
- Aluminium from the hard drive
But discarded IT equipment, particularly from businesses, can also be sold so there is un-tapped value there, and yet more than half of businesses do not recycle WEEE.
WEEE Regulations – The Environmental Benefits
Recycling electrical and electronic equipment contributes to a reduction in energy consumption as it takes less energy to recycle these items than to produce the same materials new. Take aluminium for instance, recycling it uses 95% less energy compared to making aluminium from new raw materials. Reducing energy consumption has other indirect benefits such as less dependence on oil reserves, reduction of air pollution and a reduction in greenhouse emissions.
If we all change the way we deal with our unwanted electrical and electronic items we can re-use these valuable resources instead of discarding them, preserve the world’s existing resources and help the environment at the same time.
WEEE Disposal – The Responsible Way
Many people are not aware that there are regulations concerning electronic waste or WEEE waste disposal. So next time your company has unwanted electrical or electronic equipment you can help reduce landfill, stop dangerous materials from contaminating our planet and reduce the health risks for people worldwide simply by disposing of your e-waste responsibly.