By James Rubin, CEO of Enviro Waste London

With over 300 million tonnes of waste being produced in the UK every year, your business may be incurring high costs and causing environmental damage. As technology has become a fundamental part of modern day living, our businesses are contributing to the waste problem because of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (or WEEE), with around 2 million tonnes of WEEE being discarded every year. As you can imagine, this poses quite the problem for our government as they try to fight the war on waste.

The problem

Unfortunately, recycling rates have flat lined recently, with only 33.9% of household waste in London being sent for recycling in 2014. This is significantly below Boris Johnson’s target of 40% and the EU’s target of 50% recycling by 2020. London is Europe’s greenest major city and with 9 out of 10 people claiming they would commit to recycling if it was easier to do, what is stopping them?

Baroness Jenny Jones, member of the London Assembly, feels that the current political stance on recycling is one of the major problems. Recycling is not a priority issue within parliament, therefore it can get forgotten. We have also seen widespread austerity measures and cuts across London which has contributed to local council’s despondent attitude towards recycling.

Another problem is the lack of structure within London Boroughs as all 33 of them have differing policies on recycling. This can make the message confusing enough already, but when you take into consideration the vast diversity of people living in London it’s clear to see that one method of communication will not reach every individual. Also, a large proportion of London housing is made up of flats and shared houses which makes coordination of recycling a difficult challenge.

With so many problems facing residential recycling, the government are turning to businesses to pave the way for a greener future. As it stands, WEEE is growing at 3.5% each year, making it the fastest growing waste problem worldwide. WEEE can be very harmful and dangerous due to the hazardous materials they contain such as mercury and lead. The Local Government Association have warned that England will have run out of space for rubbish unless new landfill sites are found by 2018, which is why specific laws have been put in place to take control of the situation.

The law

The WEEE Directive outlines the laws for proper recycling of non-household WEEE. The Directive became European law in February 2003 with the aim of reducing the quantity of WEEE that is sent to landfill but also to reduce the amount of hazardous substances used within the content of Electronic and Electrical Equipment (EEE).

The WEE Directive states the regulations for producers of non-household WEEE to recover, reuse, recycle and treat their WEEE in compliance with UK and EU legislation. The collection, recovery and recycling targets have been set by the European Community (EC) at a minimum rate of 4 kilograms per head (of population) per annum. You can find out more about the specifics of the WEEE Directive here.

On 1st January 2014, the WEEE Regulations 2013 became the law in the UK, replacing the 2006 regulations. The new regulations will cover more products as of January 2019, giving businesses time to prepare for the change. The aim of the WEEE Directive and Regulations is for the EU to recycle a minimum of 85% of Electrical and Electronics Waste Equipment by 2016.

The Solution

With around 50% of businesses currently not recycling WEEE, there is a huge opportunity to make improvements both environmentally and economically. As an example, recycling aluminium uses 95% less energy than producing it from new materials. If we are able to move towards a circular economy model where we reuse more items there is a potential to contribute £1.7 billion per annum to the economy.

The UK has met its 2014 WEEE recycling target of 490,000 tonnes, but that target is on the rise. For businesses to ensure the UK meets targets again, they need to adopt better recycling behaviours. In the past, some businesses have used illegal exportation to get rid of their waste, but this is only adding to the problem. We also need to see more product innovation to encourage a long term solution to WEEE recycling and a circular economy.

Above all, businesses need to ensure they are following the WEEE Directive and Regulations thoroughly and disposing of e-waste in the correct fashion. For more information on this topic, you can read Enviro Waste’s WEEE Guide.

WEEE is the waste industry’s biggest opportunity but potentially a very big problem for our environment. I believe businesses, media and governments must take responsibility on what information they put out to the public. So we taking up this responsibility and are providing quality information that will hopefully influence a positive change.