WEEE Waste: A Comprehensive Overview

In the realm of waste and recycling, a specialised sector has been rapidly gaining momentum: the recycling of Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). This surge can be attributed largely to the implementation of the original WEEE Directive in the United Kingdom, brought into law by the WEEE Regulations of 2006.

With these regulations came a set of requirements governing the recovery, reuse, recycling, and treatment of WEEE. The landscape further evolved with the introduction of the Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations in 2013, which replaced the 2006 Regulations.

These new regulations transposed the main provisions of Directive 2012/19/EU on WEEE, thus revamping the earlier Directive 2002/96/EC. Furthermore, these regulations expanded the range of products covered by the directive, effective from January 1, 2019.

For those seeking further insights into the intricacies of the WEEE Regulations 2013, comprehensive information can be found in the Government Guidance Notes produced by the Department for Innovation and Skills.

Old electronic waste. Device junk.

The World of WEEE

In the United Kingdom, a staggering estimated two million tonnes of WEEE items are discarded annually by both households and businesses. WEEE encompasses a wide array of products, all of which either come with a plug or require batteries. The regulations currently delineate ten broad categories of WEEE, as outlined in Schedules 1 and 2:

  1. Large household appliances: Including items such as fridges, cookers, microwaves, washing machines, and dishwashers.
  2. Small household appliances: Covering vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters, and clocks.
  3. IT and telecommunications equipment: Encompassing personal computers, copying equipment, telephones, and pocket calculators.
  4. Consumer equipment: Including radios, televisions, hi-fi equipment, camcorders, and musical instruments.
  5. Lighting equipment: Ranging from straight and compact fluorescent tubes to high-intensity discharge lamps.
  6. Electrical and electronic tools: Consisting of drills, saws, sewing machines, and electric lawnmowers.
  7. Toys, leisure, and sports equipment: Comprising electric trains, game consoles, and running machines.
  8. Medical devices: Covering (non-infected) dialysis machines, analyzers, medical freezers, and cardiology equipment.
  9. Monitoring and control equipment: Such as smoke detectors, thermostats, and heating regulators.
  10. Automatic dispensers: Including hot drinks dispensers and money dispensers.

The scope of the regulations expanded further in January 2019, encompassing additional categories of electric and electronic equipment, as delineated in Schedules 3 and 4 of the Regulations.

Navigating the Complex World of WEEE Treatment

WEEE items, especially large household appliances and IT equipment constitute a significant proportion of the discarded electronic waste. These items contain various materials, with a wide range of compositions. For instance, an average television comprises 6% metal and 50% glass, while a cooker is predominantly 89% metal and only 6% glass.

Other materials found in these products include plastics, ceramics, and precious metals. Notably, some of these materials can be hazardous, including substances like arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and certain flame retardants.

Consequently, WEEE recycling presents a set of health risks that demand effective management. Exposure to substances released during the processing of electronic waste, such as mercury from fluorescent tubes and lead from cathode ray tubes, requires stringent controls.

Treatment of WEEE varies depending on the category of WEEE and the technology employed. Some facilities utilize large-scale shredding technologies, while others opt for disassembly processes, which can be manual, automated, or a blend of both.

Facilities engaged in disassembly operations must adhere to the minimum requirements specified in the DEFRA document, “Guidance on Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT) and Treatment of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).”

This document provides a valuable overview of the standards for treating, recycling, and recovering materials from WEEE and outlines the requirements for the removal of certain substances and components.

For shredding operations, the removal of certain components and substances may not always be necessary, depending on the technology used. However, some hazardous components and substances must be removed in advance to mitigate health and safety risks and equipment damage.

To assist in navigating the world of WEEE collection and processing, the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) offers online guidance on best practices. This guidance covers various aspects, including WEEE treatment and health and safety policies and procedures, addressing a range of audiences, from Authorised Treatment Facilities (AATFs) to waste management companies.

Addressing Specific Substances and Components

WEEE recycling also involves addressing specific substances and components that require careful handling:

  1. Fluids: These are often found in heating and cooling appliances, such as fridges and freezers. The WEEE Directive mandates the safe removal of all fluids before crushing or shredding operations.
  2. Capacitors containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Historically used in electrical equipment like capacitors and transformers, PCBs have not been used in new equipment since 1986. However, appliances manufactured before 1976 may still contain PCBs.
  3. Mercury-containing components: Mercury is used in various electrical and electronic equipment and has declined in recent years. The removal of circuit boards can often eliminate mercury-containing components.
  4. Toner cartridges and colour toner: Commonly found in printers, fax machines, and photocopiers, these components should be removed whole and stored in labelled containers to prevent toner dispersal.
  5. Asbestos waste and components: Asbestos has been used in older appliances such as electric coffee pots, toasters, and irons. Modern appliances do not contain asbestos, but older items should be carefully examined and handled accordingly.
  6. Lead and other hazardous substances in CRTs: Lead and substances like phosphorous pentachloride can be liberated during the processing of glass to remove the fluorescent coating.
  7. Components containing refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs): Mainly used in furnaces, heaters, and kiln linings, RCFs are classified as category 2 carcinogens. Adequate precautions are needed when handling products likely to contain RCFs.
  8. Components containing radioactive substances: These can be found in various commercial equipment, such as fill level detectors, static eliminators, radium aluminized dials, old trim phones, and smoke detectors.

Other Hazards in WEEE Recycling

Beyond the treatment and handling of specific substances and components, WEEE recycling poses additional hazards, including machinery safety, manual handling, repetitive movements, cuts, abrasions, stacking, electrical safety, and fire and explosion risks. Each of these aspects necessitates strict adherence to safety protocols to ensure the responsible and secure processing of WEEE.

In conclusion, the world of WEEE recycling is intricate and diverse, demanding a combination of rigorous regulations, expert knowledge, and a commitment to health and safety. As electronic waste continues to grow in volume and complexity, the effective management and recycling of WEEE remain essential for environmental sustainability and the well-being of both workers and the wider community.

How can we help?

When it comes to WEEE recycling, making an environmentally responsible choice is essential. If you find yourself in need of WEEE recycling services, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Our experienced team is ready to assist you in managing electronic waste efficiently, ensuring it is handled and processed in a sustainable manner. Contact RiffRaffRubbish today for all your WEEE recycling needs, and let’s contribute to a greener, cleaner future together.

Bradley Cahoon

Managing Director of Riff Raff Rubbish
0800 987 7077
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