Why WEEE should be processed within borders.

What if…Managing WEEE within borders was more than just an ideology…

Covid-19 has changed the world. Borders and its citizens are in lockdown and even while an easing of restrictions begins, there is no timeline for a return to the free international travelling to which we are all accustomed.

The shift from sending problem-materials and difficult to process waste streams out-of-state to managing them within proximity of where they arise has accelerated in recent times and is part of the circular economy concept.

All around the world, companies have developed and apply circular business models. Sending end-of-life materials for remanufacturing, reusing, and recycling rather than destruction, incineration and dumping in landfills. Utilising sources of renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Building in-country infrastructure rather than exporting or importing products and services. Employing automation and robotics to manage difficult and hazardous tasks rather than exporting these tasks to developing nations.

The current economic climate puts further pressure on the availability of vital natural resources. The potential consequences of any projected resource scarcity are visible in our generations future and everyone needs to act now.

Economics and the environment. With economies struggling, the need for the government to support the creation of jobs is a given. Supporting the creation of jobs that fit into the green economy and circular materials management is a win-win. In doing so, Governments can strengthen business efforts and upscale small niche activities into powerful circular actors that can impact their economy. Stimulate innovation and sow the seeds for new employment opportunities within the circular economy.

What if Governments choose to support indigenous waste processing more? Yes, there are economies of scale considerations for processing and it is important to understand where the production demand is, but there is a difference between sending out untreated and co-mingled ‘recyclable’ waste and sending out pre-processed and single stream high demand recyclate or components harvested for reuse and resale.

Improve support structures for indigenous business. There is of course freedom of movement in a European context, but environmental considerations can be implemented to make it more and more difficult to simply export problems. In simple terms make it more onerous, restrictive and more costly to export, especially when there are viable alternatives in-state.

Invoke the proximity principle. WEEE is a great example because it is easy to understand the processes, there is enough information at this stage. If there are processors for small WEEE, support them. If there are processing capabilities for screens, support them. If there is a viable process for refrigeration appliances and large household appliances shouldn’t they be supported? Why is the norm for the export of WEEE, to be under circumstances of minimal processing?

Reuse, while closer to the top of the waste hierarchy pyramid than recycling, suffers from a negative image and a lack of support. The belief that refurbished appliances take away from new sales and the complex issue of liability is what prevents greater infrastructure around reuse. The IT WEEE re-furbisher’s have greater success. Perhaps this is because the product is not perceived to be inferior with latest software installs and guarantees. IT is also a high(er) value item. Perhaps perception around value leads to establishing high value appliance refurbishment… A second-life for Dysons, Miele, Kitchen-Aid?

To summarise…

Sustainability. This word takes on new meaning now. There are valuable resources in WEEE, many of which are recovered through a myriad of processes but some are regarded as a waste or nuisance as the difficulty in harvesting these resources is complicated and inefficient.

Investment and support. Supports for companies that are working on viable recovery solutions for these resources requires beefing up. Invest in local solutions providers…they require support. If it remains easier and more economical (sic) to export waste, it will remain the only solution, stifling entrepreneurial green shoots in-house. In Europe, competition within the EU is a level playing field but there is not enough enforcement of regulations and enabling export without financial and administrative burdens means that viable projects will not be allowed to develop. Similarly, the ease with which waste has been shipped out of the USA or remain unprocessed and goes to landfill are areas where stronger government deterrents and strict enforcement of regulations can help businesses to establish alternative solutions.

Supply-chain. With Covid-19 people are more conscious about supply chain and its secure management. Indigenous businesses can reap the benefits from opportunities to develop if the supports are put in place.

Processing. Within industry social distancing and process optimisation will be major drivers in decision making and structural developments. Automation and robotics will be to the fore in order to maintain competitiveness.

At FPD Recycling we develop strategic processing equipment employing robotics, AI and automation to help recyclers maximize the value of critical raw materials. Utilizing the flagship product; the FPD PRO® enables organisations to recover critical raw materials from flat panel displays in-house, removing dependency on others, enhancing their circular economy and thereby reducing C02 emissions.

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