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Compliance fee hinders UK e-scrap recyclers

UK compliance schemes collected 494 976 tonnes of end-of-life electronics last year. The Environment Agency says this represents 90% of the EU’s mandatory target of 550 577 tonnes.

The 2019 total was up slightly, by 2 000 tonnes, but it marks the third consecutive year the UK has missed the 65% put-on-market (POM) collection target outlined in the WEEE Directive. Industry sources note that ‘virtually all other EU countries’ were similarly unable to achieve the goal for 2019. 

The seven product types collected, by weight, last year were:

  • Large household appliances (174 186 tonnes)
  • Cooling equipment (134 629 tonnes)
  • IT & Telecom equipment (44 608 tonnes)
  • Display equipment (44 521 tonnes)
  • Consumer equipment (36 018 tonnes)
  • Small household appliances (35 537 tonnes)
  • Electrical/Electronic tools (17 836 tonnes)

The Approved Authorised Treatment Facility Forum says it is not entirely the fault of the sector that it didn’t meet the desired target. Instead, it blames the compliance arrangements. ‘We believe that the shortfall is largely due to the compliance fee mechanism which has enabled producer compliance schemes to meet targets without physically collecting material,’ says Phil Conran, chairman of the AATF Forum.

He expects another £5 million (EUR 5.75 million) to be added to the compliance fee pot that raised over £11 million over the last two years. ‘Whilst the Forum has concerns as to the benefit gained from that pot, of more concern is the likely fate of an increasing amount of WEEE as collectors try to avoid the cost of the correct treatment routes,’ Conran adds.

‘This has been recently exacerbated by the requirement for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) present in WEEE outputs to be destroyed which has seen a significant rise in treatment costs.’ Some plastics from e-scrap, which would previously have been recycled, are now deemed to contain too high a level of POPs, and so are classified as hazardous waste. As a result, the material goes to incineration plants.

However, the Joint Trade Association (JTA), which oversees the fund, argues the compliance fee remains a ‘necessary mechanism’ that provides an alternative method of compliance when WEEE is not available via the collection network.

‘We know small electricals are still being thrown in the bin and that some electricals beyond further use or repair are being hoarded and that additional methods to get access to this WEEE are needed to increase collection levels,’ says JTA chair Susanne Baker.

She adds: ‘The JTA very much welcome the boost to the UK’s collection infrastructure that will come as the result of mandatory retail takeback next year and strongly back the focus of the WEEE Fund on supporting kerbside collections and communications – areas which compliance schemes traditionally face barriers in addressing.’

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