Equipment waste tops one million tonnes a year

18 March 2008

In the UK, one million tonnes of electrical and electronic equipment is thrown away each year. From washing machines to keyboards and lightweight mobile phones to equipment control consoles, discarding is invariably less expensive than repairing.

Many types of electrical equipment that finish up on the scrapheap contain toxic metals known to be hazardous to health. Cadmium and mercury are just two which triggered the recent EC directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment that came into force in an amended format on 1 January 2008.

Under the new regulations, the impact of WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment), on the environment is required to be minimised through re-use and recycling wherever feasible. The directive further seeks to reduce the volumes of waste electrical and electronic equipment going to landfill by making producers responsible for financing the collection, treatment, and recovery of waste electrical equipment, and by obliging distributors to allow consumers to return their waste equipment for free.

According to Barry Groves of WE3 Recycled, a UK-based consultancy that assists public and private organisations comply with the WEEE directive, such legislation is long overdue and timely. He comments: “Not only are we currently generating over one million tonnes of electrically oriented waste each year, the level of discard is already increasing at the rate of 80,000 tonnes each year. Without the directive, we could have reasonably expected the rate of such disposal to landfill to have gone exponential.” Commenting on the implications of WEEE, Groves added: “I sincerely hope that the directive will act as a catalyst to ensure that manufacturers, distributors and end users become more aware of the implications of their actions. There is a growing demand within the UK and the rest of the developed world for goods designed, made, sold and eventually discarded in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. The fact that this can be done cost-effectively using best practices in all areas has already been adequately demonstrated. There is now little doubt that more and more consumers are questioning how the goods they purchase are made, and their effect on society and the environment during use and disposal.”

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