This week the Environment Agency has confirmed to waste operators and exporters that most household WEEE must be treated as hazardous waste, unless proven it does not contain POPs.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that have been used in the manufacture of EEE (electrical and electronic equipment) for many years, although their use has been largely phased out in new equipment.
They were commonly used as a fire retardant in plastic casings, for example, but can be found in other materials such as printed circuit boards and even cables. Historically POPs were widely used pre-2009 and it is believed that they can be found in significant proportions of WEEE reaching end-of-life waste streams.
Chemicals classed as POPs persist unless destroyed or irreversibly transformed and have the ability to bioaccumulate in the environment, with a risk that they can accumulate in food chains. As such they pose a risk to human health and the environment as a whole. Since 2009 the use of POPs in the manufacture of new EEE has drastically reduced.
Treat it as hazardous if not certain
In updated guidance for the WEEE recycling sector released this week, the Environment Agency stated “We have updated this guide to reflect a revision of the Persistent Organic Pollutant Regulations in 2019. Following a study to examine the presence of POPs in waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), we have clarified the requirements for how you must manage WEEE.”
The new guidance on classifying electronic and electrical equipment states that if the WEEE contains a certain level of POPs it cannot be recycled or reused, and importantly, “If you’ve assessed your waste and are still not sure if an item is hazardous or POPs waste, you should treat it as hazardous and POPs waste as a precaution.”
Dramatic impact on the WEEE recycling sector
A list of POPs and the permitted concentration thresholds are listed on the Environment Agency website, enabling recyclers to determine if the item of WEEE should be classified as hazardous waste - if the recycler can accurately determine the chemicals present and their concentration in the first place.
The same restrictions also apply to exports of WEEE, with exports only allowed if the items of WEEE can be specifically proven to be classed as non-POPs waste.
Importantly the Environment Agency notes that EEE manufactured after 1 January 2009 is much less likely to contain some types of POPs and that reuse is permitted within the UK if it can be demonstrated that you have ‘checked each item of WEEE to make sure it was manufactured after 1 January 2009 and met all the other relevant requirements for reusing WEEE’.
The Environment Agency does note that this guidance is not perfect and there are exceptions to this however, with some equipment manufactured after 2009 containing levels of POPs higher than the permitted thresholds.
Higher recycling costs
Sue Nolan, procurement manager at Ecosurety commented “The industry has known about the POPs issue for a while now and has been adhering to the Regulatory Position Statement 228 issued in December last year. It has meant we have been faced with higher recycling costs and the new guidance confirms the impact this will continue to have on recycling and reuse operations.”
“As one of the fastest growing waste streams it is more important than ever for households to recycle their waste electricals, to ensure that they do not enter the general waste stream.”
Ecosurety operate a UK-wide WEEE collection service and you can request a WEEE collection using our simple online form.
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Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.