A modern day waste transformation

Three companies from the logistics, waste and recycling industries have joined forces to develop an innovative national scheme for redundant electrical appliances.

The European-led Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, set to be transposed into UK law by mid-2004, will place a range of new environmental burdens on manufacturers, retailers, local authorities and recyclers.

Now Endeva, Biffa and EMR, each a major player in their respective sectors, have come together to create the working venture Transform. “All three companies are firmly committed to helping the UK meet the requirements of the legislation,” according to a spokesman.

Endeva will provide consumer take-back, using its existing service network of 1,000 vehicles, 18 operating sites and a 300-seat contact centre. The company already provides fulfilment and repair services to electrical manufacturers and retailers, making 1,500,000 home visits a year.

Endeva will also continue to facilitate the reuse of quality used appliances, through its specialist refurbishment centres and various retail distribution channels.

With 50 collection depots, 20 transfer stations and a 1,200-strong fleet of vehicles, Biffa will collect electrical waste from businesses, civic amenity sites and retailers.

The company already collects waste and recyclables from over 60,000 commercial customers and one million households and also operates 35 landfill disposal sites and five for special waste.

EMR will carry out the treatment and recycling of electrical waste, examining new technologies and markets for end products. The company already recycles over 300,000 tonnes of electrical waste a year – over twice the volume handled by its biggest competitor.

Recovery targets

EMR operates a national network of 60 licenced sites, with 10 conventional shredders, two specialist fridge recycling plants and two dense media separation plants – including Europe’s largest. Such facilities will be key to meeting the directive’s recovery targets.

The project partners are actively engaged in a programme of stakeholder dialogue to develop the product offering of Transform. “It’s early days, the rules have to be worked out and those affected are unlikely to want the same thing,” explains Graeme Carus, development director at EMR. “Transform will be shaped by those it means to serve.”

Not only will the venture meet the needs of producers, retailers and importers, it will also make recycling easier for local authorities and consumers. A range of services will be considered, including enhanced segregation at civic amenity sites and special envelopes allowing householders to post small items of electrical waste for recycling.

Although it remains unclear how the collection infrastructure serving consumers will be funded, the cost of meeting recovery targets for consumer waste will be shouldered by producers, importers and retailers. Depending on how the UK government transposes the legislation, retailers may also need to offer free take-back for an old product when they deliver a new one to the consumer.

Collective schemes

Obligated companies are expected to share the cost of recovering electrical products placed on the market before August 2005, by contributing to collective schemes relating to market share. But they will need to provide some kind of financial guarantee for products marketed later, either through retail outlets, internet or mail order.

With regard to electrical waste generated by businesses, producers are likely to require some kind of take-back service for products placed on the market after August 2005. Such arrangements would be subject to the normal commercial terms between producers and their business customers. The government may decide to make businesses shoulder the cost burden for products marketed before that point.

Electrical waste classed as hazardous must be pre-treated and the special waste sent to specially designated hazardous waste sites, of which Biffa operates five across the UK. Treatment centres will need to be specially licensed, inevitably assuming the status of hazardous waste facilities.

The legislation requires certain types of component to be removed, including batteries, electrical capacitors and old-style television screens, which pose a particular challenge given they contain an average 6lb of lead, are expensive to recycle and suitable technologies are only just starting to emerge.

Treatment costs will depend on the kind of product categories, economies of scale, treatment standards, disposal costs for hazardous wastes and residues and general overheads. Depending on the product, between 70 and 80 per cent by average weight of the electrical waste separately collected must be recovered and 50 to 75 per cent must be recycled, including the reuse of parts.

The venture will also help to measure the industry’s progress toward enhanced parts reuse and recycling of non-metallics. EMR has been actively examining new recycling and recovery technologies for post-shredder waste and already recovers for construction uses 20,000 tpa of aggregate, mainly the counter-balance of washing machines and ovens, using sophisticated dense media separation processes.

Mixed waste streams

Other recovery solutions must be developed for mixed waste streams that cannot be mechanically recycled or recovered by existing means, although with the UK’s current lack of infrastructure and the lead-time to installation suggest the first targets will almost certainly have to be met through the increased recycling of non-metallics.

Nigel Thomas, head of product development at Endeva, says: “We are firmly committed to help the UK’s electrical manufacturers, retailers and consumers fulfil the WEEE Directive. We’re excited at our role in Transform and believe that this unique partnership means we’re well positioned to help all our customers achieve the targets set by the EU.”

Phil Conran, recycling manager at Biffa and head of packaging compliance scheme Biffpack says the venture also aims to challenge the perception that data lies at the heart of producer responsibility rules. “Supplying data evidence is only part of the story. Transform will be a working entity, operating at the national level and shouldering the entire burden for its customers,” he states.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie