Impacts of Covid-19 on household WEEE collection

Investigation into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the collection of household waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE).

This report created a tool to estimate the household waste electricals that weren’t collected owing to the impacts of Covid-19 in 2020.  

The purpose of this research was to investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the reported collection of household waste electricals in the UK. The main aim was to quantify where and at what rate household waste electricals were building up in the UK system, broken down by product types.  

Method

The research was desk-based. It involved a review of Environmental Agency data, a survey of a number of electrical goods producers, retailers, local authorities, recyclers (Approved Authorised Treatment Facilities – AATFs), and engagement with producer compliance schemes.  

The research set out to understand how the WEEE sector was coping with the changes in flows of unwanted electricals caused by Covid-19. 

The research also developed a freely available tool (Covid-19 Impacts Model). This models household WEEE collections across 2020 under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, where Covid-19 did not happen. The tool then modelled actual collections across 2020 and compared the two in order to estimate the quantity of WEEE that may have been thrown away or is still being hoarded.

Key research outputs

  • The Covid-19 Impacts Model can be used at a national or local level to estimate the amount of waste electricals that were not collected in 2020. The tool provides graphs and results tables which break down business-as-usual and actual collections by different waste electrical categories, e.g. large domestic appliances and consumer appliances. Results are also broken down by collection channel, including household waste and recycling centres (HWRCs) as well as bulky waste collection services. Questions can be directed to Jacob Hughes and Dan Nima.
  • The research identified that, compared to the business-as-usual scenario, 20% fewer household electricals were collected in 2020. This amounts to just over 77,000 tonnes, which it is estimated were either thrown away or are being hoarded instead. Larger items, such as large domestic appliances, tended to dominate the quantities of items that hadn’t been collected. 
  • The survey showed that, generally, recyclers felt there was sufficient on-site storage and processing capacity to handle any spikes in waste electricals received. However, as these spikes did not occur it is assumed the materials were being stored in peoples’ homes or thrown away.  
  • Most local authorities surveyed felt they would be better prepared for similar disruptions in future. But they emphasised the difficulty of communicating with the public about waste services because of the need to focus on updating them on Covid-19 developments. However, with social distancing measures such as booking systems for HWRCs likely to be kept in place for longer, the report identifies that there are opportunities to rethink how the public interacts with their local authority ahead of a trip to an HWRC. These interactions could be used to educate and encourage proper segregation and avoid unnecessary losses of waste electricals. 

Covid-19 Impacts Model

Clicking the link will automatically download the Excel file (.xlsx) containing the mathematical model developed to underpin this research.

To download the full report, see below.

Investigation into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the collection of household waste electronics and electrical equipment (WEEE)

Vivian Shi and Jacob Hughes. March 2021. 48 pages. PDF.

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