Once, when electrical devices became faulty, they would have been repaired to extend their useful life. Now, manufacturing costs have reduced significantly - repairing items can now be more expensive than replacement. Plus, technology is updating so fast that an electrical device's functionality and performance may no longer meet the consumer's needs. In the UK, approximately 2 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) items are discarded by households and businesses every year.
To control the reuse and recycling of WEEE, the WEEE Regulations were introduced as a specialist part of the waste and recycling industry.
The key objective of the WEEE Regulations is to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic waste that goes to landfill. This is achieved by placing responsibility on the producers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).
The WEEE Regulations place an obligation on distributors to offer a take-back system, where WEEE items can be disposed of free of charge. Distributors must offer one of two schemes to their customers:
- Free in-store take-back scheme - where customers purchase an equivalent new item, and the distributor accepts the old one in return
- Distributor take-back scheme - where customers can dispose of WEEE items free of charge at a designated site
Categories of EEE
Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) includes most items that have an electrical plug or a battery. Details of which types of EEE are covered in the Regulations were released in 2013, and extended in 2019.
Optional: Navigate to legislation.gov.uk via the links below to check whether an item is included in the Regulations.
- Schedule 1 - Categories of EEE covered by the Regulations
- Schedule 2 - List of types of EEE which fall under the categories in Schedule 1
In 2019, the scope of the Regulations was extended to cover additional categories of EEE, as outlined in Schedules 3 and 4 below.
- Schedule 3 - Categories of EEE covered by the Regulations from January 2019
- Schedule 4 - List of types of EEE which fall within the categories set out in Schedule 3
Householders have a duty to dispose of their electrical waste properly. These items carry the following symbol:
Items labelled with this symbol should not be just be thrown in the waste bin, they should be taken to the nearest household waste recycling centre. Local authorities offer a collection service, but there is usually a charge. Of course, there are also the take-back schemes mentioned earlier.
Businesses, schools, hospitals and government organisations must all ensure that their EEE is separately collected, treated and recycled. Depending on the circumstances, the cost would be covered by the business or producer of the items.
A distributor must keep records of the number of WEEE units returned and kept for a period of at least 4 years from the date of the record entry. Many organisations use approved recycling companies to ensure they are compliant with the current WEEE regulations.
It is also worth noting that any data stored on a device's hard drive must also be removed before recycling to avoid non-compliance with Data Protection and GDPR regulations. Often hard drives are mechanically shredded to make it impossible to recover and avoid any data from being compromised. Although removing or destroying data from retired devices is essential, it is not part of the WEEE regulations.
RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) in EEE Regulations aims to reduce the amount of hazardous substances used to manufacture EEE, hence making disposal at the end of its useful life safer and greener.
Manufacturers placing EEE on the market in the UK must evaluate their production controls to ensure that their products do not exceed the maximum prescribed levels of hazardous substances.
Simply disposing of a computer's processer incorrectly could have an impact on the environment. It could contain potentially harmful materials such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, or brominated flame retardants.
E-waste is having a significant impact on our environment. Regulations are in place to control how we should recycle our EEE at the end of its useful life (such as WEEE Regulations) and also to reduce the amount of toxic or hazardous substances used to manufacture EEE items (such as RoHS).
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There was a time when electrical devices became faulty. They would have been repaired sometimes on more than one occasion to extend their useful life. Repair engineers would be highly trained to fix faults right down to component level at the customer's premises. Technology has evolved at such a rapid rate while manufacturing costs have reduced significantly, meaning that repairs can now be more expensive than replacement and often, the item no longer meets the consumer's needs anyway.
According to the World Economic Forum, electronic waste is now the fastest growing waste stream in the world. It is estimated, this waste stream reached 48.5 million tons in 2018. Globally, society only deals with 20% of e-waste appropriately, and there is little data on what happens to the rest, which for the most part ends up in landfill or is disposed off by informal workers in poor conditions. Yet, e-waste is worth at least $62.5 billion annually, which is more than the gross domestic product of most countries. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment regulations or WEEE, is a specialist part of the waste and recycling industry. The original UK WEEE directive was implemented by the WEEE regulations 2006, which detailed the requirements for recovery, reuse, recycling, and treatment of WEEE.
The WEEE Regulations 2013 became law in the UK on 1st January, 2014 and replaced the 2006 regulations. These new regulations also provide for a wider range of products covered by the directive and were brought into effect on 1st January, 2019. In the UK, approximately two million tons of WEEE items are discarded by households and businesses every year. In simple terms, WEEE includes most items that have an electrical plug or a battery. The WEEE regulations were brought in to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic waste that goes to landfill. The responsibility is on the producers and distributors of electrical and electronic equipment to make safe disposal and recycling available to consumers.
There are two kinds of take back schemes that allow this to happen. Free instore take back schemes, which allow customers to take back their old gear for disposal when they buy a new equivalent new item and distributor take back schemes which allow customers to take their waste equipment free of charge to a designated site. As you can see, the regulations cover just about every item of electronic and electrical equipment we find at home and at work. There were 10 initial categories covered in the 2013 regulations, and even more were included in the updated 2019 regulations. It's the householders responsibility to dispose of their waste electrical equipment properly.
Items with this mark should not just be thrown in the waste bin, they should be taken to the nearest household recycling center. Businesses, schools, hospitals and government organizations must all ensure their waste equipment is separately collected, treated and recycled. Depending on the circumstances, the cost would be covered by the business or producer of the items. Some older electrical items might show you this symbol with no black line under the crossed out wheelie bin. This means the item was manufactured between 2002 and 2005 and falls outside the producer compliance schemes.
These items are treated as historic WEEE. The black line underneath shows that the item was made after 2005 when the EU directive came into force. In practice, consumers will be able to take items to their local recycling center as normal. For businesses and for all larger items, the distributor may make a charge for using their takeback schemes for historic WEEE. A distributor must keep records of the number of waste electrical units returned. These records must be kept for at least four years and must be made available to the secretary of state on demand. Many organizations use approved recycling companies to ensure they are compliant with the current WEEE regulations.
When disposing of computers and other items with hard drives, any stored data must be removed before recycling to avoid non-compliance with data protection and GDPR regulations. Often hard drives are mechanically shredded to make it impossible to recover and avoid any data from being compromised. Although, removing or destroying data from retired devices is essential, it is not part of the WEEE regulations. RoHS is the restriction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment regulations. It aims to reduce the amount of dangerous materials used to manufacture the devices and equipment we buy. This makes it safer and greener to dispose of these items when we no longer need them.
Manufacturers placing these items on the market in the UK must evaluate their production methods to make sure they do not exceed the maximum levels allowed on these key substances, which are used for their anti-corrosive properties in batteries and monitors, on sheet metal and in plastics. There are some exceptions where these hazardous substances can be used in higher quantities for specific applications.
Manufacturers must complete a declaration of conformity with supporting technical documentation to demonstrate their compliance and keep records of this for 10 years after last production of these products. If consumers and businesses simply dispose of an item like a CPU, it can have a damaging impact on the environment, leading to harmful and toxic chemicals potentially entering the water and food supply. Water disposal by consumers and businesses complying with WEEE and RoHS regulations avoids this, also allowing for recycling of valuable and scarce materials.
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