An Overview of the WEEE Regulations

It’s hard to ignore how heavily we rely on technology today; both in our business and personal lives. The majority of us carry a tiny computer in our pockets through which we communicate (smart phones), have a portable computer of some description (let’s not argue over Apple or Microsoft), and even our TVs can do a multitude of things beside transmitting programs. Most products that require a plug or battery are considered to be WEEE waste, and it’s estimated that every year 2 million tonnes of WEEE waste is accumulated from domestic and corporate consumers.

However, like all other specialist items there are regulations and requirements for their safe disposal, particularly those that contain hazardous materials such as Mercury (which has been banned since 2006). In 2006, the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Regulations were introduced to provide provisions for the controlled recovery, reuse and disposal of waste electrical items. The regulations were reviewed in 2013 and are currently under review again.

Changes to the WEEE Regulations are expected to come into force in January 2019, with the intention to increase the recycling of electronic equipment. During this review, the categories of electrical waste have been reassessed for effectiveness and all items will be included in the scope of the regulations. At current, there are 10 categories of waste. However, there are two possible outcomes of the review; reduction to 6 categories (preferred by the EU) or increase to 14 categories (preferred by the UK).

Categories currently include:

  • Large household appliances such as fridges, freezers, microwaves and washing machines. These can include hazardous fluids for heating and cooling.
  • Small household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, irons, toasters and clocks.
  • Lighting Equipment – particularly fluorescent lamps which contain mercury.
  • Medical equipment
  • Monitoring, alert and control equipment; this includes smoke detectors and central heating thermostats.
  • Automatic Dispensing equipment; eg coffee machines, ATMs
  • Toys, fitness and leisure: including games consoles and treadmills
  • Electric tools: screwdrivers, lawnmowers, sewing machines and drills.
  • Consumer equipment such as televisions, radios, musical instruments, stereos and cameras.
  • IT and Telecom equipment: computers, tablets, telephones, calculators and intercoms. These often contain Mercury.

Special measures are also required for toner cartridges of both liquid and paste contents. Used in printers, photocopiers and fax machines, these have to be removed in their entirety whist ensuring they remain intact. They are then placed in specified labelled containers for storage and transport.

So far, we can only take a best guess at the changes that may happen. Firstly, we know that the categories are going to expand and vary in some way to include more items. Secondly, we can expect there to be further costs and measures for business to manage, as more items will now need to be taken away by a specialist contractor. Finally, we can expect to see a change in the materials used in the manufacture of electrical products to make them easier to dispose of; potentially reducing the cost of disposal and recycling.

The handling of waste is a major part of ISO14001; the standard for Environmental Management. With an Environmental Management System in place, processes are put into action to ensure the safe and responsible disposal of WEEE products and ensure that this can be evidenced for auditing purposes.

For more help and advice, or to find out more about ISO14001 Environmental Management Systems, contact us.