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Recycling the Directive

Last week I learned that Britons are the worst in Europe at recycling their electrical and electronic waste. The WEEE Directive, it seems, is still not widely recognised by large numbers of the public and even some firms. Fewer than half of UK residents regularly recycle electrical waste, whereas those efficient Germans take back more than 80%. The Brits are not traditionally rule-breakers, so what’s going wrong?..

According to the study conducted by computer manufacturer, Dell, the Welsh came out on top (or bottom) with nearly 20% admitting they never recycle E-Waste.

Now firstly, these figures didn’t strike me as particularly worrying, though the way they were presented was obviously meant to have that effect. Reading into the statistics it’s apparent that in the top country, Germany, 20% don’t regularly recycle their E-Waste. While in Wales, the least WEEE observant part of the least WEEE observant country, 20% never recycle their WEEE, so 80% do, at least sometimes. Doesn’t sound so terrible, does it?

Anyway, back to the point, we’re still at the bottom of the pile, if only by a few percent. But it’s fair to say, the UK was fairly leisurely in its uptake of the Directive. Most other European countries were a good couple of years ahead of us in WEEE implementation. The ultimate problem, however, seems to be lack of awareness.

For the Directive to work well, it needs as much understanding on the part of the end user (especially non-business consumers) as it does for the producer of the electrical product. There certainly seems to be a failing here, with at best limited knowledge of WEEE and its implications for most people. There is very little consumer awareness of what they should do with electrical equipment at the end of its useful life, so much of it still gets dumped the same way it was before the Directive.

The Batteries Directive has been enforced with a similar lack of fanfare leaving the public either confused or completely unaware of what to do. So if the statistics suggest that Britain recycles the least amount of electrical waste, I can only assume it’s probably because the faintly whispered PR campaign for WEEE didn’t reach the average Briton who happened not to be directly associated with electrical or electronic products.

So, can things be improved? Well, as is the fashion these days, the government launched a new consultation in April this year asking for feedback from businesses to help improve both the WEEE Directive and RoHS. Currently there are EU proposals to tighten the regulations and enable EU member states to require manufactures to collect 65% of the average weight of products placed on the market.

That certainly sounds more stringent, but will it be possible to achieve if half the population still doesn’t even know what WEEE is? Let me know what you think.

Enjoy the newsletter,

Richard Scott

Your comments:


I was interested in your article. As a manufacturer I am aware of our responsibilities for taking back our products at the end of life and recycling them, but I have never seen anything about what I should do as a consumer. Even if people understood what the wheelie bin symbol means, are they expected to take every electric toothbrush and DECT phone individually to the council waste site? There isn’t a system for recycling WEEE or batteries from individual consumers who individually produce only a small irregular amount of this waste and until there is, most of it won’t be recycled.


Peter Robinson

Technical Director
Data Harvest Group Ltd,



I live in Cornwall, our refuse collection is all handled by a French company SIFA. For electronics items made after the WEEE directive, the waste solution is defined, for equipment made before, the only recourse is to use the local tip. At the local tips many things are recycled or separately collected, paper, glass, metal, washing machines, fridges etc., but for electronics they do separate TV sets, however the instructions with any other electronics items is to put them in the household waste landfill bins. I have questioned the operators regarding WEEE, but they haven't a clue what I am talking about.

Getting WEEE to work does require educating the public, but that's a waste of time if the public have nowhere to take it.

Locally, like many towns we have recycling bins emptied regularly but the local council, WEEE would be far better implemented via that route, and this is the only real way for batteries which for most people it is easier to just throw them in the normal rubbish bin. As a trial we decided to put two old batteries in with the recycling this week, the council operatives took everything else but left the batteries.

Seems it is way too early to educate the public, we need to be educating our municipal collection groups and councils and change the way we do this so we really do benefit our environment.



PS for my company our WEEE is handled by WEECARE and has been since day 1 of the legislation as has our registration with the EA.

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