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In January, the WEEE regulations were updated to include new products. Ben Storer, senior technical advisor at Valpak, explains what this means for equipment producers.

Keeping Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) out of landfill and dismantling it for reuse or recycling helps to meet the Circular Economy goals, which aim to replace the traditional linear model of ‘take, make and dispose’ with a circular system that designs products for reuse and recyclability.

The world has transformed since electrical goods became widely available and, although we have not quite reached a time where labour-saving devices allow us to enjoy unlimited leisure time, our lives are undoubtedly enhanced in ways that were unimaginable 50 years ago. What was missing from those 20th century visions of the future, however, was the recognition that, at some stage, products would reach the end of their lives and need to be disposed of responsibly.

These days, we are all familiar with the targets in place under the WEEE regulations. However, since January this year, changes have come into effect and, under a new Open Scope system, WEEE producers are now required to report on a wider range of items. 

Updated regs

Disposing of electrical goods to landfill can result in toxins and chemicals leaking into the earth and water systems. The WEEE regulations were originally introduced in 2007, to divert waste products away from landfill and to increase recycling. The regulations place an obligation on producers to offset the cost of recycling products at the end of their life. In practice, this means reporting on the volume of goods placed on the market, and paying a fee to facilitate recycling.

A ‘producer’ of electrical and electronic equipment is any business that imports, manufactures, or rebrands electrical or electronic goods for sale in the UK. Around 6,000 businesses were already complying with the regulations, but from January 1 this year, a new band of producers will be tasked with navigating the WEEE regulations for the first time.

Those which are new to the system may find the process confusing to begin with, but it need not be a daunting prospect. The first step is to find a compliance scheme which can help. Although producers are able to manage the reporting aspect themselves, they must register with a specialist compliance scheme, which will purchase recycling evidence on their behalf. Companies which ignore the legislation can be liable for prosecution. 

Understanding the changes

Producers need to understand the weight of individual products, excluding batteries and packaging. They may weigh the products in-house, source the weights from manufacturers or suppliers, or use their own recorded weights for their products.

A good compliance scheme will guide producers through the process, taking them through the steps needed to register. Although Open Scope was introduced in January, the first declarations took place in April, and included all the items placed on the market between January and March.

Retailers need to make consumers aware of the importance of recycling old items, and explain where goods can be dropped off for recycling. Packaging must include the crossed-out wheelie bin symbol to show that products should not be sent to landfill.

While the new regulations may seem confusing, they are an important step in protecting the environment from the serious impact of mishandled WEEE. For those who need help, their compliance scheme should be the first port of call. Working collaboratively, producers and recyclers can make a real impact, increase recycling, and protect the environment. 

Open Scope – what’s changed?

Since the Environment Agency published its updated Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) Scope Guidance, the number of items falling under the regulations has expanded. At the same time, the UK recycling target is set to rise from 45% of the weight of the EEE products placed on the market, to 65% of the equipment sold (or 85% of the WEEE generated).

Producers which were already signed up for compliance will need to check whether changes affect them. Newly-obligated producers should also assess their stock and take steps to register.

Household luminaires have been added to the list. These include a wide range of products, from garden lighting and lampshades which feature a luminaire (or light source), to table and wall luminaires and ceiling roses. 

Other lighting features also feature for the first time. For example: dimmers, light switches and lighting controls used in household lights; fixed installations such as air conditioning units and filtration systems; and small items like fuse boxes, circuit breakers and plugs. 

A number of products that were previously included in the scope are undergoing smaller changes. These include a change to the categories assigned to sunbeds and some heat-pumped tumble driers, while producers of power tools will no longer be expected to declare the case.