WEEE – Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment

The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) has been formed by the European Community because “the amount of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment generated in the community is growing rapidly. The content of hazardous components in electrical and electronic equipment is a major cause for concern during the whole waste management phase and recycling of WEEE is not undertaken to a sufficient extent.” It is intended to “encourage the design and production of electrical and electronic equipment which take into full account and facilitate their repair, possible upgrading, reuse, disassembly and recycling” in order to reduce the “harmfulness to the environment” of the product and its constituent parts and substances. It follows the polluter pays principle, meaning that the producer of the product pays for its collection, treatment and environmentally responsible disposal.

This provides an incentive to design less environmentally damaging products, not only to avoid penalties and bad publicity associated with failure to comply, but also to achieve cost savings through designing products that are easy to dispose of in a responsible manner.

The directive applies to all EEE products sold to the EU for consumer or professional use, “irrespective of the selling technique, including distance and electronic selling”.

Electrical and Electronic Equipment refers to “equipment which is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly and equipment for the generation, transfer and measurement of …currents and fields…and designed for use with a voltage rating not exceeding 1000Volt for Alternating Current and 1500Volt for Direct Current.” This includes products such as calculators, washing machines, computer equipment and medical equipment. A full list of products covered by the directive is available from the dti. Excluded from the directive however, are products designed specifically for military use and products that have an inbuilt electrical device that is secondary to the main function of the product such as a gas boiler with a digital clock.

The consumer is an important link in the life cycle chain of the product that eventually will lead to it being returned to the producer or a third party acting on the producer’s behalf, rather than being disposed of as unsorted municipal waste. Users must be provided with information that clearly explains their role in the management of WEEE. Products should therefore be clearly marked with the symbol for the marking of electrical and electronic equipment, as shown here.

WEEE symbol

Producers must also provide recycling and repair centres with treatment information detailing the different components and materials, and the location of dangerous substances in the product, within one year of launching any new EEE on the market.

In order to minimise the environmental impact of EEE, it is preferred that where possible products and components will be reused and where this is not possible it should be attempted to recycle the materials. Producers should also attempt to integrate recycled material into new equipment. Specific targets have been set for rates of product recovery and rates of reuse or recycling.

These targets have been set intentionally high and must be achieved by 31 st December 2006. Producers therefore have a strong incentive to improve the ease of recycling of their products and to utilise the financial benefits achievable from reusing products and components over a relatively short timescale.