Current affairs

27th March 2019

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Allen Risby

Paul Reeve looks at how Defra's recently updated WEEE Regulations will affect producers and distributors of electrical waste

It's widely held that moving towards a more circular economy should deliver substantial social, environmental and economic benefits. It will certainly help to recover more of the UK's growing mountain of domestic and commercial waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), boosting whole-life value and reducing harmful impacts.

EEE refers to electrical and electronic products that 'depend on electric currents or electromagnetic fields for their basic function' – whether battery powered, solar powered or connected to the electrical supply. It applies to products, rather than spare parts or components. When EEE becomes waste, it is WEEE.

The EU was ahead of the curve when it legislated to improve WEEE recovery across Europe a decade ago. In the UK, implementation of the WEEE Directive has diverted products such as fluorescent tubes away from landfill via WEEE collection schemes.

Increase in scope

“The WEEE Regulations are based on the 'producer responsibility' principle“

In January, Defra expanded the scope of the UK WEEE regulations to cover virtually all electrical and electronic products (EEE), including accessories such as plugs, sockets and switches. With nearly all EEE in scope, what does it mean – and who is affected?

The WEEE Regulations are based on the 'producer responsibility' principle, which aims to ensure businesses that manufacture, import and sell products are responsible for 'end of life' environmental impacts. This is often achieved through regulatory duties to: reduce material use, and enhance reusability and recyclability when designing the product; minimise waste and promote re-use and recovery; ensure waste products are properly treated; and meet UK recovery targets for waste materials.

Consequently, the main duties of the new WEEE Regulations fall on EEE 'producers' and 'distributors'. Under WEEE 2019, EEE producers, importers and distributors have legal duties that include providing (or paying towards) the free take-back of WEEE. Larger UK producers or importers of in-scope EEE must join a producer compliance scheme and report the weight of the EEE they sell (minus any batteries). Producers supplying less than five tonnes a year in the UK may register with the Environment Agency.

It's also possible to pick up duties if, for example, you commercially import EEE from abroad (including via the internet). Among the duties are the requirement for producers, importers and distributors to meet national recovery targets by financing their share of WEEE compliance schemes, or providing free domestic and commercial WEEE take-back facilities.

If the aim of this is to boost WEEE recovery, it might seem a perverse to find that there is no direct legal duty on businesses or consumers in possession of WEEE to ensure it is recovered (though other waste law still applies). However, the intention is for wider-scope 'free take-back' and compliance schemes to reduce the barriers involved when customers send waste electronic and electrical equipment for recovery.

As consumer and supply chain awareness grows, the wider-scope regulations will mean extra costs for EEE producers – but they may also present organisations with commercial opportunities. In addition to promising environmental benefits, they may also help to bring the circular economy a step closer.

Paul Reeve, FIEMA CEnv is director of business at ECA, a leading electrotechnical services trade association

Further reading

Find further information on retailer and distributor responsibilities around WEEE at:

Image credit: iStock


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