Smart meters

Written by: Dr Philip Morton | Published:

With the second year under the new WEEE Regulations under way - and with increased collection targets for member states - Dr Philip Morton, CEO of the UK-based producer compliance scheme REPIC, explains why intelligent target setting is the right solution

When the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) introduced the new WEEE Regulations, effective from 1 January 2014, the wheels were set in motion to balance the system and restore stability to what has previously been a distorted marketplace.

Over the past year we have seen a transition take place, marked by improved WEEE collection rates and improved visibility of treatment routes for everyone involved – something that BIS was seeking when it introduced key changes to the system via the new regulations. Although progress is being made, there is still work to do. BIS has just released the proposed 2016 WEEE collection targets, with the overall target set of 528,687 tonnes. This is approximately 16,000 tonnes higher than the total tonnage of household WEEE collected last year in the UK.

While collection targets for some material streams were not met in 2015, there has been a steady increase in the annual growth in tonnes of WEEE collected in most categories during the past five years. The 2016 targets reflect this and have increased across most categories of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

Challenges ahead

It’s clear that we need more WEEE in the system and the UK needs to count WEEE from suitable complementary channels, in addition to that collected through producer routes, if it is to hit the new target. European targets are set across member states in line with the EU directive. This year the target that applies to each member state will be 45% relative to EEE placed on the market in the previous three years, equating to 730,450 tonnes.

From 2019, the challenge increases further and the WEEE target becomes either 65% of EEE put on the market, or 85% of WEEE generated. Although the targets are achievable, as long as WEEE from all routes is counted, there is undoubtedly work to be done to keep things on track.

Market dynamics monitored by BIS

It’s important to consider that when reviewing any data, we should take into account its context: it cannot be viewed in isolation.

BIS closely monitors market trends and takes account of them when setting targets for each WEEE stream, with some targets increasing and others decreasing, reflecting the nature of products and their markets. In some cases, manual adjustments are made where the previous growth trend is not judged to be reflective of current market dynamics. The number of manual adjustments are, however, kept to a minimum by BIS for simplicity and clarity.

By way of example, this year targets in the display category have been adjusted. The data demonstrates that year-on-year the collection tonnage rates for screens and monitors has decreased. This does not mean to say that capture rates have suffered the same fate – technological developments have produced more slim-line products which are lighter in weight and this naturally impacts on tonnages.

In addition, a decline in tonnage for display collection rates since 2011 is a legacy effect of the digital switchover and a ‘peak’ in recycling at the time of the switchover.

BIS has acknowledged that the rate of decline is now expected to slow and collections will stabilise – something that is taken into account when the targets are intelligently set.

This year’s collect target of 67,564 tonnes in the display equipment category is lower than the 75,071 tonnes actually collected in 2015, reflecting the current market dynamic.

Substantiated estimates

Although the proposed overall UK collection WEEE target is set at 528,687 tonnes, it is still below the collection levels necessary to achieve the UK member state target of 730,450 tonnes for 2016. How is this difference going to be met?

Fortunately the new WEEE directive recognised that some WEEE is currently being properly treated but not counted.

In view of this, member states are now able to count WEEE passing through these complementary WEEE routes using “substantiated estimates” to meet their target. BIS carried out a study via WRAP which determined that around 10% of the light iron scrap collected in the UK was made up of whole appliances of category 1 WEEE (large domestic appliances such as washing machines, tumble driers, cookers, etc).

These substantiated estimates must logically play a part in new EEE tonnage put on the market, too. Whenever EEE is initially placed on the UK market, its weight is recorded, but some is subsequently exported but not necessarily deducted. The result being that the percentage target for WEEE to be collected is based on an inaccurate figure.

Overstating the case

On the other side, the exported EEE is then counted a second time on the imported market. It is likely that every member state overstates the EEE placed on its own market. In future, this needs taking into account or we will all be chasing WEEE from EEE that isn’t there.

Having now adopted a target-based WEEE system for producer compliance schemes, it’s time to consider what shape realistic targets should take going forward. Rather than rely on a historic tonnage figure for collected WEEE, many stakeholders are pressing for a far more intelligent means of representation: if instead the focus were on WEEE generated, the UK could feel more confident in achieving the challenge ahead.

Fortunately, flexibility has been built into the WEEE directive, and from 2019 targets can either be 65% based on the weight of EEE or 85% of WEEE generated.

The WEEE generated target, properly calculated, would seem to be a much smarter one, taking into account all WEEE flows. Work is under way across Europe to provide data to enable it to become the target of choice.

However, in the interim, much care will be needed when setting the new WEEE stream targets: the smarter the target setting, the higher the expected success.


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