Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is big news. But what exactly is it and why does it need to be on FMs’ radar? Marcus Brew, MD of UNTHA UK, offers his thoughts.

It might not sound like a very attractive topic and, in all honesty, we’re talking about a type of waste so arguably it isn’t. But WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) is an extremely important topic in Europe.

Once a concern for only WEEE producers and those in the waste management sector, the same message is now being cascaded down throughout businesses of all shapes and sizes, and even the public. FMs can therefore no longer overlook the need to effectively recover and recycle WEEE.

Here’s why:

1. WEEE recycling is governed by the law. With rules first implemented in the early 2000s, the updated WEEE Regulations 2013 state that producers (those benefiting from the sale of equipment) are responsible for the collection, treatment, recovery and/or environmentally-sound disposal of WEEE. But as environmental pressures mount and businesses come under greater scrutiny, everyone in the supply chain has a larger part to play.

FMs are therefore accountable for and need to be aware of the options available, so that commercial WEEE is collected and managed appropriately by suitably qualified and registered companies.

2. This legislation is being updated and, in January 2019, even more types of electrical and electronic equipment will be covered by the regulations, beyond the kitchen appliances, IT and telecoms devices already included, for instance. Guidance is reportedly being drawn up at present, but the need to segregate far more items from the general waste stream, is mounting.

“Failure to exhibit ecologically

sound values can be extremely harmful to your reputation.”

3. It is important to note that the legislation doesn’t just exist for legislation’s sake. One of the key reasons the regulation is in place, is because a number of high value materials are often contained within WEEE products, which should of course be extracted for reuse. However, given the presence of precious metals such as gold and silver, WEEE can attract a lot of illegal trade, both domestically and within the export market.

This is dangerous, as harmful substances such as cadmium and mercury are also frequently present.


Regulation therefore exists to prevent these materials from entering the general waste stream and causing health risks/environmental damage. There have even been cases reported of children handling this waste stream in the world’s developing countries, which could have devastating consequences.

4. WEEE is one of the fastest growing waste streams in Europe, with figures increasing by 3-5% per year in this continent alone. This trend looks set to continue, so greater action needs to be taken, and quickly!

5. Consumers’ attitudes are becoming ever more discerning which is almost forcing organisations – including FMs – to demonstrate stronger environmental thinking, whether they like it or not. Failure to exhibit ecologically sound values can be extremely harmful to your reputation, which can in turn be to the detriment of sales, recruitment and brand value.

6. The waste hierarchy is a key framework that the UK business infrastructure is encouraged to comply with, not only for the good of the environment but because – as point three eluded to – there is wealth in ‘waste’.

The priority, under the hierarchy, is to reduce the creation of waste at source so that it mitigates the problem in the first place. In today’s somewhat throwaway, eager-to-consume and gadget-hungry society however, this is admittedly a difficult plight. The second priority should therefore be reuse. In a WEEE context, this involves the salvaging of seemingly redundant equipment, which may no longer have a use by one business but that could still be in perfect working order. Sometimes a little repair is all that is necessary for the equipment to continue to have a long, fully- functional life. Laptops are often refurbished for resale within charities for instance.

Thereafter, a recycling process is the next best option, so that all the component parts of the WEEE arisings can be liberated and recovered, for reinsertion into the manufacturing of a new product. It must be stressed however, that this process should only be carried out by a licensed WEEE specialist.

7. Don’t panic that compliance equals cost. Often, WEEE specialists will collect such ‘waste’ for free. It’s simply a case of identifying and segregating your waste stream, before contacting an approved partner to help.

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