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December saw another announcement from the Government re their plans for refuse and recycling reforms. This time the focus is on electrical items and a boost to the ‘circular economy’.
The Government is proposing that small electrical items be collected at kerbside under a scheme paid for by manufacturers, but physically undertaken by local authorities. Manufacturer recycling drop off points are also suggested along with the requirement to collect old appliances when delivering new ones.
Here we’ll be discussing the implications of the new proposals for local authorities and producers.
What has Prompted the Proposals?
Released on the 28th of December 2023 for introduction from 2026, the proposal paints a great picture for consumers keen to recycle electrical items. Doing so is currently tricky for most and almost impossible for some, as recycling points are often restricted to tips or stand-alone recycling centres.
Current statistics state that an:
“estimated 155,000 tonnes of smaller household electricals such as cables, toasters, kettles and power tools are wrongly thrown in the bin each year.”
It’s also thought that UK households contain:
“a further 527 million unwanted electrical items containing valuable materials such as gold, silver and platinum.”
Government research detailed in the proposal announcement showed that 86% of UK residents believe it’s worth recycling and taking the time to do it properly, but that many are unaware of or have difficulty accessing recycling points for waste electricals.
When asked where consumers would prefer to recycle their goods, around 75% opted for their local supermarket, electrical retailer, or charity retailer. These respondents also said they would view those retailers as more environmentally responsible if they offered such services.
The proposals are subject to a 10-week consultation process and ideas on the table include:
The requirement to contribute towards the collections would also apply to online retailers – meaning that international suppliers would also be held to account.
Extended Producer Responsibility
Retailers will need to make huge changes to fall in line with Extended Producer Responsibility- a concept that has been around for years. One of the issues faced here is measurement.
If all local authorities collected small electrical items in the same way, then recyclates could be measured and compared more easily. Some Councils share data based on waste composition analysis studies, such as those conducted by ISL (Waste Composition Analysis (integrated-skills.com)). A more uniform, standardised recycling collection programme would give a more accurate impression of how much waste was being produced by which manufacturers and they could then be asked to contribute accordingly.
Unfortunately, this is not the case currently. There’s something of a postcode lottery in the UK when it comes to what is recycled, where and how.
The new proposals will increase the need for accurate reporting and data comparison based on a more standardised approach- something that is apparently in the works according to the Government’s new “simpler, common-sense approach to recycling”. You can read more on that here.
What do the Experts Say?
Material Focus, a not-for-profit organisation who focus on the recycling and reuse of electrical items, commissioned their own research that certainly supports the proposals.
They found that, if kerbside collection were to be introduced successfully, 85,600 tonnes of electrical waste (55% of the 155,000 tones currently thrown away every year) could be collected for recycling.
At Integrated Skills, we certainly welcome the concept and completely agree with the ‘producer should pay’ mentality- but we’re also acutely aware of the issues with logistics and funding that may halt the 2026 roll out.
For authorities who already separate materials at kerbside, do vehicles have the capacity for a new waste stream? For authorities providing co-mingled recycling, this will be more difficult. Can small WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) be collected with other mixed, dry recyclables without damage? Can it be successfully separated at a processing facility?
The new proposals, while seemingly logical and environment-centred, present a new set of demands and challenges for those struggling to provide essential community service.
We’ll be touching on this proposal and related issues in our free, upcoming webinar: “New Year Update – Government’s Recycling & Waste (Simpler Recycling) Strategy”.
From 15:00 on the 25th January 2024, we’ll be hosting a discussion between Victoria Murray (a Principal Consultant at Eunomia Research & Consulting and a well-respected waste management consultant) and our very own Stuart Henshaw (head of Business Development and leader of our webinar programme).
They’ll be discussing the Government’s resources and waste strategy; summarising our knowledge so far and highlighting where we are still waiting for more detail – including progress on:
As always, there will be an opportunity for Q&A (where there’s no such thing as a silly question), and the session will be recorded and provided to all sign ups.
Sign up to the webinar below: