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Environment Agency update WEEE guidance to determine POPs

18th August 2020

Faye Perry

The Environment Agency have released updated guidance on classifying waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) prior to it being sent for recycling, incorporating identification of hazardous substances or persistent organic pollutants (POPs)

Parties who either produce, collect or receive WEEE need to be aware of how to correctly classify their WEEE and identify which items contain POPs to ensure the right disposal method in line with POPs legislation.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are a group of organic chemical substances which exist in WEEE plastics and due to their specific physical and chemical properties, are able to persist in the environment for long periods of time. Once released into the environment they have the ability to bio-magnify and bio-accumulate in ecosystems and have significant negative environmental and human health impacts. The POPs Regulations state that WEEE containing POPs cannot be recycled or reused, but instead must be destroyed (an exception to this rule is large domestic appliances for which there is further information on below). 

Therefore, the Environment Agency have published updated guidance to demystify confusion on identifying the presence of POPs in WEEE, providing a list of WEEE components which are deemed to contain hazardous substances or POPs. The statement released from the Environment Agency reads '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 guidance outlines that all WEEE waste, primarily household WEEE, should be treated as containing hazardous substances or POPs unless it can be proved that levels in the item are below the set concentration limits. Components of WEEE identified as likely to contain hazardous substances or POPs include: printed circuit boards, plastic casing, cables, insulation foam, cooling agents, flame retardants, cathode ray tubes, capacitors, activated glass and screen phosphors and Ni-Cad batteries. 

Determining if your waste contains POPs

Whether you manufacture or sell electrical products, or indeed collect or receive waste electrical items, it is important to understand if the products contain POPs so they can be dealt with safely and correctly at end of life. The government guidance on the following link will help you to do this - How to identify and dispose of waste containing POPs

Please note - it is the responsibility of a WEEE treatment facility to carry out the actual disposal process. 

Classification of different WEEE streams

Large Domestic Appliances (category 1) – white goods: circuit boards, motors or plastic components may contain hazardous chemicals or POPs but unlikely in high enough concentrations to classify as hazardous or POPs. Classify as non-hazardous and non-POPs.

Small Mixed WEEE (SMW, categories 2-10) - circuit boards, screens, plastic parts or batteries may contain hazardous chemicals or POPs. Classify as hazardous and POPs.

Lightbulbs and lamps – circuit boards, plastic casings or plastic parts may contain hazardous chemicals and POPs such as flame retardants:

  • Fluorescent tubes – classify as hazardous
  • LED, halogen and incandescent containing POPs – classify as hazardous and POPs
  • LED, halogen and incandescent proven not to contain hazardous components – classify as non-hazardous and non-POPs

Medical devices (category 8), monitoring and control equipment (category 9) and automatic dispensers (category 10) – treatment facilities are required to assess waste to determine whether if hazardous substances or POPs are present. If an assessment cannot be done, the WEEE must be classified as hazardous and POPs.

Impact on Reuse

The EA guidance provides an exemption for equipment manufactured after 1 January 2009. EEE manufactured after this date is deemed less likely to contain the PDBE group of POPs as the use of this chemical was stopped in products placed on the market in Europe after this date. As a result WEEE can be reused within the UK if it can be demonstrated that the equipment was manufactured after 1 January 2009 and it has met all other reuse tests.

WEEE can only be exported for reuse if it can be demonstrated that POPs are not present above the set concentration limits including in printed circuit boards, cables, plastic components.

Impact on Treatment

The output from the treatment of WEEE classified as POPs waste will also contain POPs and must be destroyed. This remains the case even if the treatment has diluted the level of POPs below the set concentration limits, as the limits are based on the material entering the start of the treatment process. The requirement to irreversibly destroy POPs waste is likely to have cost implications both for the initial treatment of the WEEE item and for the downstream treatment of WEEE plastics and cables. This in turn could have a knock-on effect on the cost of WEEE evidence, required to demonstrate compliance under the WEEE Regulations.

Resources

1. Guidance on classifying WEEE

2. Identify & dispose of waste containing POPs

3. WEEE treatment and POPs

4. Comply Direct WEEE Collections Fact Sheet and Service Offering

5. Request a WEEE Collection

If you have any queries with regards to classifying your WEEE and how to dispose of it correctly, please do not hesitate to contact us at weee@complydirect.com or call us on 01756 794 951