July 1st is not only the date that we can all enjoy a restaurant meal or a drink in the pub without smoke but also the date when Britain finally complies with the horrendously named Acronym laden WEEE legislation which stands for The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive.
I took part in some training to do with this legislation some years ago in Brussels and it was hard to bring anything useful away from it as Britain was such a fragmented entity when it came to recycle and reuse legislation compared to Europe with a variable policy differing from county to county with little help for recyclers from central government and so it was hard to see how it could be enabled as effectively here. It’s taken the UK some years to implement the legislation which was introduced back in 2001-2003 in many EU countries.
In essence WEEE deals with what happens to all our electrical items when they die (‘this is an ex telly, it has ceased to be’ ) and extends the responsibility of the original manufacturer to make provision to take back their own products at the end of their useful life rather than let it all go to landfill. So after July 1st we will not be able to discard electrical items alongside our general waste and there will be greater provision at local recycling and waste centres to take these and we’ll see more companies make arrangements to take these items back directly. Manufacturers will also be able to charge slightly more for products as they will be required to contribute to a mutual fund which helps deal with taking electrical items back when made by a manufacturer that had since ceased to exist.
In Europe, when I did the training there were already regional drop off points in many EU member states and return areas at local electrical stores which took the pressure off the sea of fridges and dead washing machines that often build up in our local council tidy tips.
We also need to be slightly skeptical of what the manufacturers do after taking these items back. It does not necessarily mean that they won’t then dispose of them in an environmentally sound way and many commercial recyclers still see the exporting of redundant technology to third world countries as a viable answer when in fact it’s largely just shifting the problem abroad despite the good intentions of putting technology into needy hands.
The legislation does give a higher priority to reuse rather than recycling though in the public mind these two processes are often deemed to be the same thing.
The counter productive side of Weee is that people like myself who take items in for reuse can legitimately charge for taking away these items whereas the pressure has always been on trying to make money from reuse rather than the service of collection. Certainly it now costs many recyclers money to safely dispose of many items that cannot be effectively recycled or reused.
We also don’t have many reuse shops in the UK. In fact many charity shops no longer accept electrical items due to the expense of testing them for electrical safety and the risk of any adverse situation arising from our increasingly litigious culture.
I would hope that as this legislation begins to bite the manufacturers will begin to build electrical items with more forethought regarding their potential future recycling potential and the impact on the environment.This is a lot to ask as not everything can be made economically from green friendly parts but making an item easier to break down into its component parts at its end of life would be a great help.
The worst case scenario is that manufacturers and electrical retailers just place their own tax (which legislation says should be visible and defined) on electrical goods and use it as a way to look green but just have another excuse to make more money whilst not really making a serious dent on a serious problem.