New research identifies options to improve electricals recycling infrastructure

Media release, 16 March 2021.

Research commissioned by Material Focus and conducted by Anthesis has identified a range of options to improve waste electricals recycling infrastructure in the UK. The research, Evaluating opportunities to establish an investment fund for WEEE infrastructure, explored the challenges and opportunities in the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) system and how investment could overcome these changes. The research, conducted among key industry stakeholders, found that the need for an investment fund wasn’t a priority and that instead other challenges would need to be addressed first, including:

  • The system is currently running significantly below capacity. There is a significant amount of waste electricals not being captured through the reported system and permitted sites. In total around 300,000 tonnes of WEEE are lost each year to household and commercial mixed or residual waste. The number of large waste processing sites (AATFs) fell from 97 to 84 between 2013 and 2019, and smaller sites fell from 182 to 103 in the same period. This has resulted in fewer sites available to treat waste electricals. Despite these trends there still appear to be over 140,000 tonnes of recycling capacity available from the remaining AATF operators.
  • Prices commanded by recycled material are not comparable to the equivalent virgin material market trading prices as it is considered lower grade. This makes the commercial case for increasing waste electrical recycling less viable. Counter to published research and reports, stakeholders suggest the average London Metals Exchange market prices for virgin materials can be 4 to 5 times higher than those for some recycled materials. This is partly because the quality of the metals derived from WEEE can be lower grade – e.g. copper prices may be £1,000 instead of £5,000 per tonne.

As a result of these findings, the research considered it premature to recommend the establishment of an infrastructure investment fund to build new capacity. There are wider systemic issues which the researchers heard from industry stakeholders could be addressed instead. 

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus, said: “This research has provided some valuable insights into how the waste electricals infrastructure can be supported and developed to ensure more waste electricals are captured and recycled in the future.”

Mark Sayers, Senior Consultant, Anthesis said: “In this new research conducted by Anthesis, we have seen and heard from WEEE stakeholders across the supply chain about the decline in electricals recycled and how the commercial viability of collection and recycling has become less attractive. Looking forward, our research favours changes to the system that will, in turn, encourage investment. Adopting common recycling standards supported by increases in the correct collection and treatment of WEEE and changes to the WEEE system would help stabilise the WEEE system and result in a more favourable investment outcome.”

Based on the research findings, four options have been proposed to make the sector more investible. 

1) Mandatory waste electricals treatment standard for waste sites handling electricals. Any facility receiving waste electricals should operate to these standards, with the proposed aim that this would lead to an improvement of treatment quality, delivering a level playing field across the sector.

2) UK capacity and capability for material recovery. Increase recovery of all materials from waste electricals and ensure that those currently being exported are processed in the UK instead of being destined for a number of EU mega-facilities. This would enable an increase in the value and/or quality of materials that could be recovered. 

3) Improve system stability and certainty. Create greater stability and certainty in the WEEE system supply agreements, to enable producers, schemes, local authorities and recyclers to invest for the future while recognising the benefits of a competitive environment for collectors and producer compliance schemes (PCSs).  

4) Reduce the losses of waste electricals and increase the amount of electricals being captured for recycling by expanding behaviour change, awareness and educationAnd in a targeted project work with businesses to identify why and how waste electricals are being lost from the system, prior to developing a behaviour change programme to increase recycling among this audience. 

Anthesis conducted desk-based research and a literature review, followed by stakeholder interviews, across the WEEE system. They modelled future  increases in waste electricals generated to understand the magnitude of the opportunity to increase waste electrical recycling against the backdrop of estimating recycling capacity. The report consolidated historical research and compared it to the industry feedback profile, the market’s state, and where the challenges and opportunities exist for WEEE infrastructure investment.

Notes to editors

For further information please contact Kate Hinton: kate@materialfocus.org.uk, phone 07714 708416.

Anthesis

Anthesis is the sustainability activator. We seek to make a significant contribution to a world which is more resilient and productive. We do this by working with cities, companies, and other organisations to drive sustainable performance. We develop financially driven sustainability strategies, underpinned by technical expertise and delivered by innovative collaborative teams across the world. The company combines the reach of big professional services groups with the deep expertise of boutiques. Anthesis has clients across industry sectors from corporate multinationals such as Reckitt Benckiser, Cisco, Tesco, The North Face and Target, and also supports early-stage companies through Anthesis Ventures. The company brings together 600 experts operating in 40 countries around the world and has offices in Andorra, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Middle East, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the U.S. www.anthesisgroup.com

Frequently asked questions
Find your nearest reuse and recycling point

Find out how you can get involved today

One of our friendly team will be happy to help.