Councils must get compliance right to maximise WEEE recycling

The national recycling target for WEEE will increase in the coming years, which means it is more important than ever that councils work with the right compliance schemes, argues Simon Cook

It’s probably true to say that in the waste disposal and recycling sector we’ll never reach a stage where we can sit back, put our feet up and say “job done”. Regulations and targets continue to tighten while also broadening their scope, so there are always new challenges to face.

As a result, many local authorities involved in waste management are developing closer relationships with compliance schemes and taking advantage of the guidance and support that is available. This helps them to ensure that they are up to speed with the latest requirements.

Of course, this level of collaboration varies significantly from one waste stream to another. Some waste materials are relatively straightforward to manage, while others – and lighting is a good example – can be very complex.

In fact, lighting is probably one of the most complex waste streams to manage effectively. This is partly because light fittings comprise a number of different components that need to be separated and consigned to different waste streams.

Additional complexity arises from the fact that discharge light sources are classified as hazardous waste. Consequently, it is vital to ensure that disposal complies with all necessary regulations.

In this respect, it’s important that councils start planning for forthcoming changes to the WEEE regulations to ensure producers meet their responsibilities and are able to meet recycling targets for waste from local authority buildings.

From 2016 there will be a four-fold increase in the national recycling target for WEEE, so recycling levels that are acceptable today will soon be inadequate.

Also, from 2018, the WEEE regulations will adopt an “open scope” principle, bringing many more equipment types into scope. These include switch gear, internally illuminated signs, household luminaires and photovoltaic panels.

The product selection process that is applied today will have great significance when those products reach the end of their life. Today’s specifiers, for example, architects, consulting engineers and contractors, have a responsibility to ensure that future disposal is as straightforward as possible.

For example, when equipment comes in the form of a system, such as a fire safety system or lighting system, buying the entire system from one manufacturer, will simplify the recycling process. Where this is neither possible nor practical, it’s important for councils to try to ensure that manufacturers that supply different elements of the system all belong to the same WEEE compliance scheme.

This is relatively straightforward with, for instance, street lighting, as the lanterns used will probably be from one manufacturer.

A lighting system in an office building, though, might have linear fluorescent lighting in offices, spotlights in meeting rooms, compact downlighters in circulation areas, feature lighting in reception and metal halide fittings in car parks. Consequently, it may be that no single manufacturer can supply all of the required luminaire types within specification and budget.

However, if the specified manufacturers all belong to the same compliance scheme, then there is only one body to deal with when the lighting needs to be disposed of.

In parallel, the practicalities of recycling have to be considered and this is where the compliance scheme’s infrastructure plays a vital role. This should extend to everyday issues such as provision of skips for large volumes of waste – for instance when the lighting system has been replaced – and the ability to download delivery notes when smaller volumes need to be transported to a local collection point.

Consequently, there are benefits to checking each supplier’s WEEE compliance status and ensuring they belong to a scheme that has a fully functioning disposal infrastructure, as there is an onus on all parties to ensure that the right processes are in place.

The WEEE regulations have already ensured that many thousands of tonnes of materials have been recycled rather than dumped in landfill.

In planning for the future and working together, we can ensure that compliance continues to be straightforward and delivers even greater environmental benefit.

Simon Cook is membership recruitment manager at Lumicom

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