Two research projects are fast-tracked to support UK recycling of electrical and electronic waste

Under the ICER-led study, over 25,000 samples of plastics from displays, large and small domestic appliances, power tools, fridges and printed circuit boards will be scanned and tested for persistent organic pollutants (POPs), and specifically bromine content indicative of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PDBEs), a group of brominated flame retardants, which while now no longer used in modern equipment, was used widely by industry in the past.

PBDEs were the first brominated persistent organic pollutants (POPs) listed in the Stockholm Convention because they are toxic, subject to long-range transport, degrade very slowly and persist in the environment. Their listing means that its manufacture, use or sale is prohibited.
Using a methodology agreed with Defra and the Environment Agency, the study will explore where these chemicals are and, if so, what type and in what quantities. The study will then assess options for separating out WEEE plastics found to contain POPs and identify sites where they can be safely destroyed.

The findings of the research, which is due to be concluded by February 2019, will be shared with Defra, the Environment Agency and industry to help inform policy, regulatory activity and business operations. The research is expected to cost between £446,000-£556,000.

“This initiative, made possible by the Compliance Fee, enables industry and government to work together to benefit all stakeholders,” said Claire Snow, Director of ICER. “The POPs Regulation sets maximum concentration levels for POPs in waste materials, including WEEE plastic. The ICER-led project will gather robust data on which to assess UK compliance and identify downstream solutions for contaminated material. By carrying out this work collectively, costs to the WEEE industry will be minimised.”

The other fast-tracked project, led by the WEEE Schemes Forum (WSF), is a review of existing protocols in preparation for regulatory changes in January 2019 which will see more electrical and electronic equipment in scope of the WEEE Regulations.

The review of the existing protocols – the Mixed WEEE Protocol and the Large Domestic Appliances (LDA) Protocol – will ensure they remain representative of the composition of these streams. The work will be run in two phases; the first is already underway and will run until later in the autumn which will result in a proposal for revised protocols. The second phase, which will run for six months in 2019, will seek to refine Phase I results. The project is estimated to cost around £413,000.

Nigel Harvey, WSF chair, said: “The current protocols, by which the UK measures the proportions of different categories of WEEE that are collected and recycled, were established nearly a decade ago. Significant changes in the equipment sold in the UK have occurred and, as a consequence, this may have affected the composition of WEEE arising.

The introduction of open scope from 2019 will have a profound effect on the WEEE regime, as additional products are brought within scope of the regulations. This review is therefore essential to ensure that producer responsibility costs are apportioned fairly as this change takes effect.
We welcome the provision of funding from the 2017 Compliance Fee, which has allowed this vital work to be undertaken. An external administrator, Katalyst Business Consulting, has been appointed to oversee the project.”

Susanne Baker, chair of the JTA said: “The significant sums of money accrued under the WEEE Compliance Fee in 2017 has meant that we are able to consider strategic projects and support for the UK WEEE System in a way we’ve not been able to in the past. The projects announced today are vital in supporting a sustainable and healthy WEEE recycling system in the UK, with more projects being considered in the coming weeks.”

More information on the WEEE Compliance Fee Fund 2017 is available at www.weeefund.uk