WEEE: Treat it right for export potential

With the WEEE Directive set to come into force next year, Graham Davy looks at the export market potential of WEEE and the importance of proper treatment

Despite the fact that the UK is one of the last states to implement the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, UK companies are now facing a race against time to be compliant come July next year. One of those areas where there is still confusion is with regard to WEEE and the international marketplace. The first point that should be noted is that, under the legislation, the export of untreated WEEE material is permitted.

However, untreated waste is likely to contain hazardous items and such WEEE cannot be shipped outside the EU or Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD) without prior sortation. For the same reason, unsorted WEEE can only be moved within the EU with prior notification to the environment agencies concerned.

Electronic equipment for re-use can be exported. An example of this would be where computers that have reached the end of their useful lives in the EU, but would be of great use in the developing nations, are sent to Sierra Leone by a charity. There are sensitivities here, however.

Increasingly, some waste WEEE is being exported as bona fide electronic equipment for re-use when this is patently not the case - it has reached the end of its life. The Environment Agency (EA) is, rightly, tightening up on this activity, making sure that equipment that is being exported for re-use has been tested in order to prove its validity as a working piece of electrical equipment.

Exports ruling
Once WEEE treatment has been processed in-country, the materials can be exported across the world, as long as such export does not contravene other rulings, such as the Basel Convention. However, for such movements to count towards a producer's recycling targets, the materials have to forwarded by an EA-accredited exporter. This procedure will mean that all details of where the shipment is going, up to and including the point of reprocessing, need to be logged and supplied to the EA.

The quantity of untreated WEEE leaving the UK is likely to be relatively small, given the understandable stringency of the process. The bulk of WEEE export business from the UK will be post-treatment, being the commodities and materials such as ferrous and non-ferrous metals, which will be exported to the Far East and other areas of intensive manufacturing.

Treat it well
The role of WEEE treatment plants in this country is a vital one. The operators have a responsibility, both to the producers and to the wider community, to make sure that the UK hits the ground running next year - and that the minority of WEEE reprocessing cowboys do not get a look in.

We have a responsibility in the recycling arena to ensure that WEEE implementation in this country is a success. Corporate social responsibility will become centre stage in the mind's eye of all stakeholders of a producer, including shareholders, clients and other influencers. An adherence to WEEE will become a cornerstone of producers' ethical governance.

Organisations, when choosing a WEEE partner, need to look for established businesses that are able to process WEEE, prove they have done so - and bring added-value to a producer's supply chain. And as more countries recognise the need for environmental controls on both production and disposal, such as China where RoHS laws look set to dwarf the stringency of the EU versions, this will become ever more vital for organisations working on the international stage.

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