At the end of 2018, The ICER (Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling) undertook research that tested plastic samples from different WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) streams. The results of this research showed there to be POPs (persistent organic pollutant) at levels higher than regulations allow. As a result, WEEE regulations have tightened and now more products are to be categorised as hazardous than before. Processing materials as hazardous is far more complex therefore there are going to be serious cost implications for producers. This research has informed the Environment Agency’s position on POP handling and now EWC (European Waste Catalogue) codes and disposal routes are to be applied.

What does this mean?

Lots of items that were previously considered as non-hazardous must now be classed as hazardous and subject to the relevant rules. For example, Small Mixed WEEE, Cathode Ray Tube TVs and screens and Flat Screen TVs must be recycled with separation treatment and POP-containing plastics have to be sent to high-temperature incineration plants. 

The implications

This new ruling will, as AATF chair Phil Conran says, “lead to significant cost increases to producers”. He also states, “perhaps the biggest issue at the moment is that the agency isn’t giving out any guidance. A lot of collectors won’t know, a lot of people receiving stuff under exemptions won’t know the EWC codes have changed. People taking WEEE under T11 exemptions won’t know.”

Without better information and clarity, the AATF is concerned that some firms may begin storing hazardous waste without a permit. The suddenness of the changes may also result in a backlog, which could lead to stockpiling and again force companies into a situation where they are in breach of their permits.

Additionally, there are only a certain number of treatment facilities that are able to dismantle WEEE, and there is a limited capacity of high-temperature incineration. This could mean waste will have to be exported, which is a three-month process under notification. This will cause delays and add to costs.

The AATF Forum has said: “All operators managing WEEE will now have to understand the implications on the handling of WEEE, their environmental permits and their methods of disposal of their output. There will also need to be a clear understanding of the impact on recycling rates with the potential that some target rates may now not be achievable”.

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