The future of WEEE waste in the UK

17 December 2020
Zest Recycle

Tony McPartland

Managing Director of Zest Recycle

With the latest phase of the Distributor Take-back Scheme (DTS) due to come into the effect on 1st January 2021, new MD Tony McPartland takes a look at the possible implications for WEEE waste recycling in the UK?

Zest Recycle

First thing’s first…what is the DTS?

The DTS is a scheme which allows members (retailers and distributors of electrical equipment) an exemption from providing in store take back of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) when a new equivalent piece of EEE is purchased.

So, for many years, large retailers of EEE have been able to avoid their obligations of providing an instore take-back scheme by paying in as a member of the DTS. However, from the 1st January 2021, large retailers (selling more than £100K of EEE per year) can no longer take this option and must provide an in-store take back option for consumers.

Over the years, the DTS membership system has helped fund WEEE collection and recycling infrastructure throughout the UK, contributing around £14 million to the sector, however the UK has consistently missed its WEEE collection targets, which seems to be the driving force behind the Government’s strong stance early this year and decision not to extend the membership option for large retailers until the end of 2021.

Exemption for ‘online-only’ retailers

Whilst this next phase very much places the responsibility of WEEE collection and recycling in the hands of the retailer, ‘Online Only’ retailers can ride on the back of the membership option for another year prompting some criticism from some in the industry.

Does this present a fair playing field? Is it a missed opportunity by the government to further boost WEEE recycling in the UK, with internet only distributors making up around 42% of the market for online electrical sales?

Communication is key

Another key factor in the success of this next phase, is how far retailers buy into the principals of in-store take back. For this scheme to have the required impact, retailers need to ensure their customers are fully aware of their options, otherwise it is at risk of becoming a tick box exercise and the burden will fall on CA sites to manage potentially increasing levels of WEEE waste but without the same level of funding.

The Government have clearly outlined the requirement of retailers to provide free written guidance to their customers, including information on what take back service is provided, how the equipment is reused and recycled and the damaging effects of not recycling electrical and electronic equipment.

With retailers fully onboard in both delivering schemes which are easily accessible to their customers but also in ensuring the service is supported by an effective awareness programme, we would hope to see a boost to the UK’s recovery of WEEE waste and the gap bridged between the targets set for the UK and actual collections.

Retailers have an opportunity to make a difference when it comes to WEEE waste recovery in the UK and they should pull upon the expertise and support of their waste management solution provider to guide them on how best to deliver an appropriate scheme that is well communicated.

Summary of the key points of DTS

  • Under the WEEE regulations of 2013 retailers of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) can either offer an instore take-back of WEEE on a one-for-one like-for-like basis or pay to join the DTS.
  • From the 1st January 2021, the latest phase of the scheme comes into effect and electronic retailers and distributors that sell more than £100K of Electrical & Electronic Equipment (EEE) a year and have physical stores, will be required to provide an in-store take back scheme
  • Retailers that fall into the above category will be obliged to take back an item when a consumer buys a new similar item
  • The option for membership to the DTS can continue for businesses that sell less than £100K of EEE a year or for those distributors which sell online only.
  • If you fail to comply with the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations, you can be prosecuted and fined up to £5,000 at a magistrates’ court or get an unlimited fine from a Crown Court.

*Further information and guidance on retailer and distributor responsibilities can be found here.*


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