WEEE: What's in it for local authorities?

Whether or not to register civic amenity sites as designated collection facilities for WEEE has been a pressing dilemma for local authorities. This, and other concerns, were debated at a recent London Remade event. Maxine Perella reports

Local authority roles and responsibilities surrounding the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive were examined at London Remade's first local authority network meeting of 2007 at the Institute of Physics, London, 26 February.

Using feedback obtained from LA officers, the agenda was specifically tailored to address their concerns. Jeanne Grey, assistant director of the DTI's WEEE implementation team, told delegates - made up mainly of representatives from the London boroughs - that they were central to the designated collection facility (DCF) network for WEEE.

"The Government's emphasis is on using the existing waste collection structure through civic amenity sites and hazardous waste recycling centres as the core of the DCF network. " she said, adding: "At this point in time we are asking all local authorities to consider the pros and cons of volunteering their sites as DCFs."

Producer responsibility
Once the WEEE is deposited at a DCF, a producer compliance scheme (PCS) will take financial responsibility for processing the WEEE. LAs who sign up their sites as DCFs will have to enter into an agreement with a PCS who will then arrange to collect the WEEE from the site. LAs had until the end of March to register their sites - and it remains to be seen how many have applied for registration.

In terms of PCSs and their market share, Grey spoke of a settlement centre whereby PCSs can buy or sell evidence of collected WEEE in accordance with their targets at the end of each compliance period - similar to the LATS scheme. She said it will also act as a fall back for LAs: "If some of the DCFs are left unserved, an authority can send the WEEE for treatment and recover their costs by selling evidence into the settlement centre."

DCF details
The finer details of DCF implications for local authorities were touched upon by Adrian Harding, policy advisor for producer responsibility at the Environment Agency (EA). The EA, which approves the various PCSs, is also responsible for registering producers and licensing authorised treatment facilities for WEEE.

Harding echoed Grey in saying that the backbone of the DCF network is expected to be made up of civic amenity sites, but that it could also include "transfer stations or retailer platforms" and that new sites may be developed specifically for this purpose.

He said there were benefits to registering sites as DCFs - firstly, each operator will receive up to £9,000 in funding from the distributor take-back scheme, operated by Valpak, and won't have to pay the onward costs of transport and treatment.

"That's a significant saving, particularly when you are talking about hazardous WEEE such as fridges or TVs," he explained, adding: "You will be provided with containers and will get free collection from your site. You will have less waste going to landfill and you'll be seen to be offering an improved service for the public."

Harding pointed out that to for a site to become a DCF, it had to meet certain approval criteria and abide by a code of practice - contained in guidance recently issued by the DTI. He added that DCF status could also be withdrawn at any time if the site isn't being operated in accordance with regulations. On the issue of licensing, Harding said: "Becoming a DCF should have no licensing implications for most civic amenity sites unless you hold a particularly old licence."

Bulky collections
Bulky collections will also be unaffected by the arrangements. "You can still offer that to householders and still charge for collection. But the recommendation is that you try and route all the WEEE collected in that manner through a DCF - that way you can have it removed free of charge."

Transport issues around WEEE were addressed by Paul James, general manager of DHL's environmental department. DHL is an approved producer compliance scheme and as the largest transport organisation in the UK, is well placed to manage the logistical challenges the directive may present.

"Transport is the backbone of our business, many of the producers that are obligated under this legislation are already our customers and it is through customer demand that DHL is providing these services. It has been estimated that transport costs will make up 60% of the cost of managing WEEE," James said.

The WEEE Directive is already up and running in Ireland and John Hayes, general manager of European Recycling Platform Ireland - one of two PCSs operating out there - gave an insight into some of the early lessons learnt.

"Ireland implemented WEEE in six weeks and it was one hell of a ride," Hayes recalled. "The infrastructure was very poor - we had 55 civic amenity sites, many of them were very small, essentially bottle banks, and there was no room for people to drive in."

That said, the directive has been a great success so far with Hayes reporting that many of the retailers have embraced WEEE with in-store take-back by putting wheelie bins in for consumers to return items on a like-for-like basis. There are currently 600 collection points now in Ireland and reprocessors have invested heavily in recovery infrastructure.

Site issues
Hayes was able to impart some valuable advice around upgrading civic amenity sites for WEEE. "Cages must be of the right size and in good condition - it was very difficult to get them to all the collection points in time. There were also concerns at the start about overflowing containers - it is impossible to predict, you just need to work through it."

He also warned delegates not to overlook site security. "WEEE has been taken from retailer collection points and civic amenity sites. I have also heard of threats to civic amenity staff by people who want their hands on the scrap metal to sell onto dealers. It is an issue to be aware of."

To allocate or not?
Although the proposed national allocation scheme for WEEE has now been put on hold (see News, p5), it was discussed in great detail at the event.

Jeanne Grey from the DTI - heavily in favour of such a scheme - said it was "an independent mechanism whereby producer compliance schemes will be matched to DCFs. We see that as the fairest and most equitable way of allocating collection facilities to PCSs. Some DCFs in urban areas are going to be far more attractive to PCSs than those in remote areas and the last thing we want to do is to leave remote DCFs unserved," she explained.

DHL's Paul James went on to reveal how the allocation scheme might work in practice. "[DCF] Sites will receive a ranking based on their proximity to recyclers and major transport routes, their volume, and as producer compliance schemes, we would be allocated a fair proportion of sites that are both difficult and easy to collect from.

Local authorities and compliance schemes would then enter into contracts based around the code of practice. The code of practice addresses access to sites, liability in terms of health and safety and contaminated WEEE, and dispute resolutions."

WEEE flows in the capital
How much WEEE London's population throws away and how much of it currently gets recycled was the subject of a recent study of household WEEE arisings in London. Carried out by Axion Recycling on behalf of London Remade, the study found the final estimated tonnage of household WEEE from London is 170,000tpa.

While heavy items - which account for 70% of WEEE - have high recycling rates already, smaller items of WEEE tend to get thrown out.

Hugh Smith, programme manager for London Remade, said that there were three main routes that people currently send their WEEE through - bulky waste collections (16.4%), civic amenity sites (30.6%) and retailer take-back (22%). "That represents about 100,000 tonnes - 70% of total tonnage that we estimate is currently generated in London. So a fair lump is already going through your facilities," Smith told delegates, adding: "The biggest change will be the amount of small WEEE collected; we should see a big increase in that."

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