Time for a WEEE infrastructure fund?

Evaluating opportunities to establish an investment fund for WEEE infrastructure.

This research sought to establish whether there is a case for creating an investment fund in the UK to support infrastructure for recycling waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). In the process it looked at why collection and recycling of waste electricals in the UK has become less commercially attractive. Researchers sought views from across the sector on how infrastructure can be supported and developed to ensure more waste electricals are captured and recycled in future. 

Method

The study consisted of desk-based research and a literature review, followed by interviews with stakeholders across the waste electricals sector. The desk-based research modelled how existing capacity for WEEE recycling is utilised. It also looked for examples of existing investment in recycling infrastructure, and analysed potential sources of funding for future investment. Researchers modelled future increases in waste electricals to gauge the opportunity to increase recycling. 

Key findings

  • The system is currently running significantly below capacity. Although the number of waste processing sites fell between 2013 and 2019, there appear to be more than 140,000 tonnes of recycling capacity available from remaining Approved Authorised Treatment Facilities (AATF) operators. Meanwhile, some 300,000 tonnes of WEEE are lost each year to household and commercial mixed or residual waste. 
  • Recycled materials do not command prices comparable to equivalent virgin materials. Contrary to other published reports, stakeholders suggest average London Metals Exchange market prices for virgin materials are some four to five times higher than those for some recycled materials. This weakens the commercial viability of increasing waste electrical recycling. 

The findings indicate that it is premature to recommend establishing an infrastructure investment fund to build new WEEE recycling capacity. Researchers heard from industry stakeholders that wider systemic issues should be prioritised first. 

Recommendations

The report presents four options to make the sector more attractive to investment: 

  • Introduce mandatory treatment standards for waste sites handling electricals to improve treatment quality and to level the playing field across the sector.
  • Increase UK capacity and capability for recovering all materials from waste electricals; and ensure that those currently being exported are processed in the UK. 
  • Improve system stability and certainty in WEEE system supply agreements.
  • Reduce losses of waste electricals, and increase the amount of electricals being captured for recycling, through behaviour change, awareness and education – in particular among businesses.

Evaluating opportunities to establish an investment fund for WEEE infrastructure.

Mark Sayers, Anthesis. March 2021. 92 pages. PDF.

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