The study, compiled by WRAP, indicates that over 50% of e-waste is being reprocessed or reused – as opposed to the 37% officially recorded through approved authorised treatment facilities (AATFs). However, this figure could increase significantly if more items were channelled through the right routes to start with.

WRAP spokesperson Lucy Keal maintains it has always been difficult to measure the total amount of WEEE being recovered through unofficial routes. She said: “This is why we set out to model the path of items such as mobile phones, fridges and computers once they reached the end of their useful first life.”

She added: “We estimate that aside from the 37% entering AATFs, just over a fifth is also being recovered through authorised treatment facilities, scrap merchants, MRFs or incinerators, as well as reused through facilities such as eBay and car boot sales.”

Now the model has identified the value of these routes, Keal said it should be possible to support the industry in pulling more items through official routes to further increase reprocessing rates.

“It’s clear that scrap merchants and separation from residual waste by MRFs play an important role,” she said. “But if we can keep increasing the quantity going through AATFs, this should pull more items in through these other paths, increasing recycling rates overall and improving how we record and manage these items.”

While 30% of waste electrical equipment – half a million tonnes – is still being landfilled each year, and overall recycling rates could potentially fall as items get more complex, the model highlights opportunities to change this.

The Market flows of WEEE materials report can be accessed here

Maxine Perella

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