Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling (WEEE) is a specialist part of the waste and recycling system
According to the Health and Safety Executive, an estimated 2 million tonnes of WEEE items are discarded by householders and companies in the UK every year.
Generally, WEEE refers to most products that have a plug or battery, electrical or electronic goods that are being thrown away. It is one of the fastest growing waste streams, with many products facing high turnover as technology improves every year and new technology is released.
There is a large amount of WEEE waste that needs to be handled appropriately to protect human health, stop environmental damage and prevent the economic value of these products being lost. Think of how many fridges, washing machines or microwaves you have owned and where they may be now.
Recycling these products is important to save natural resources, reduce carbon emissions and reduce mining for primary materials.
WEEE recycling is the safe, eco-friendly disposal of Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
The Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2013 cover ten broad categories of WEEE. These include large household appliances (including fridges, cookers, microwaves, washing machines and dishwashers); small household appliances (including vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters and clocks); IT and telecommunications equipment (including personal computers, copying equipment, telephones and pocket calculators); and consumer equipment (including radios, televisions, hi-fi equipment, camcorders and musical instruments).
Other categories of WEEE include: lighting equipment (including straight and compact fluorescent tubes and high intensity discharge lamps); electrical and electronic tools (including drills, saws and sewing machines, electric lawnmowers); toys, leisure and sports equipment (including electric trains, games consoles and running machines) and medical devices (including non-infected dialysis machines, analysers, medical freezers and cardiology equipment).
The final two categories are monitoring and control equipment (including smoke detectors, thermostats and heating regulators) and automatic dispensers (including hot drinks dispensers and money dispensers).
According to the Health and Safety Executive, large household appliances make up over 40 per cent of WEEE.
An average TV contains 6 per cent metal and 50 per cent glass, on the other hand, a cooker is 89 per cent metal and only 6 per cent glass. WEEE products contain a complex mix of product types and materials, some of which may be hazardous, so this type of waste needs to be properly managed. For example, fluorescent tubes can release mercury and lead and phosphorous pentachloride can be released from cathode ray tubes. This presents a risk to workers’ and the public’s health.
Treatment of WEEE can vary depending on the treatment facility and the category of the WEEE itself. However, it is important that disposal follows all necessary requirements.
Certain components require different treatment, for example the fluids found in heating and cooling appliances such as fridges and freezer and oil-filled radiators. All fluids should be removed before crushing. It should be noted that older fridges may contain Ozone Depleting Substances like CFCs and HCFCs.
Parts of printers and photocopiers, like toner cartridges, liquid and paste, as well as colour toner should also be removed to prevent the dispersal of toner into the environment.
Other potentially dangerous products include asbestos, lead and radioactive substances.
If these materials are not managed appropriately, they can cause major environmental and health problems. Materials make leak, contaminate surrounding areas and kill living species.
Besides the risks from the dangerous components of WEEE, there are other hazards to be noted.
Some machinery may be dangerous in and of itself, for example crushing, grinding, conveying, baling, compacting and palletising machines.
There is an electrical safety risk from some items, while others present fire and explosion risks.
Handling some items may present a risk of injury. Fridges and ovens, for example, can be heavy and should be handled with care and sharp items present the risk of cuts and abrasions.
On top of this, many modern electronics contain rare and expensive resources which can be recycled and reused if the waste is managed properly.
Also, many of these products contain high volumes of plastic, glass and metal which do not decompose. It should also be noted that these items take up a lot more space in landfill than other waste.
Improving the collection, treatment and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment can improve sustainable production and consumption, increase resource efficiency and contribute to the circular economy.
Councils should aim to contribute to sustainable production and consumption by preventing the creation of WEEE as a first priority, contributing to the efficient use of resources and the retrieval of secondary raw materials through re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery and improving the environmental performance of everyone involved in the life cycle of EEE.
It is important that local authorities take responsibility for WEEE recycling and provide the services for locals to dispose of this waste sustainably.
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