Many everyday consumer items contain electrical parts. Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is electrical and electronic equipment that is broken or unwanted. Any appliance that runs on electricity has the potential to cause damage to the environment if it is not disposed of in a responsible way. Common items of electrical and electronic waste are:
The main environmental concerns are resource depletion and dangerous substances arising from waste from electrical and electronic equipment.
If electrical and electronic products are disposed of in landfill sites, millions of tonnes of materials that could be recovered and reused for new products are being lost. Recovery of these materials would reduce the need to extract more raw materials for the manufacture of new products.
Some electronic equipment and/or its components contain substances that are considered dangerous to the environment and human health if they are disposed of carelessly. Although these dangerous substances are usually only contained in small amounts, they have great potential for causing serious environmental damage.
Landfill is the disposal of waste material by burying it. Space at landfill sites is becoming scarce. It is not appropriate to dispose of waste from electric and electronic equipment in landfill sites because of the harmful substances that waste from electric and electronic equipment is known to contain.
Incineration is the process of burning materials at high temperatures.
The recycling industry is complex. There are large shredder operators and smaller specialist recyclers. They are backed up by other companies, which provide services such as plastics recycling and refining precious metals. In addition, there may be small repair and refurbishment initiatives. Recycling companies also collect items for export to countries with more advanced recycling systems and those that extract components and materials for recycling.
Shredders process a mixed range of equipment to recover different materials, primarily metals. Large hammermills, also known as fragmentisers, shred a mixed stream of metal-rich materials, including end-of-life vehicles, household appliances and other light iron.
The WEEE Directive requires producers to be responsible for the financing of the collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE. It means that final users of such household WEEE are entitled to leave that waste back free of charge, either to retail outlets when buying a replacement item, or to other authorised collection points, including local authority civic amenity sites. WEEE includes batteries (pdf) and accumulators.
The first WEEE Directive (Directive 2002/96/EC) entered into force in February 2003. The Directive provided for the creation of collection schemes where consumers return their WEEE free of charge. In December 2008, the European Commission proposed to revise the Directive in order to tackle the fast increasing waste stream. The new WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU entered into force on 13 August 2012 and became effective on 14 February 2014.
Local authorities have developed initiatives for improving their management of waste from electric and electronic equipment as part of their general waste management plans. These plans revolve around improved collection facilities at civic amenity sites, increasing the amount of waste from electric and electronic equipment that is recycled and cutting down on the amount of waste from electric and electronic equipment sent to landfill sites. For details of initiatives in your own area, you should contact your local authority.
As noted above, the WEEE Directive provides for free take-back of end-of-life equipment.
Householders may also deposit WEEE free at civic amenity facilities.
For details of how to dispose of electrical and electronic waste in the proper way, contact your local authority. It will be able to advise you on how to deal with this kind of waste.
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