Changes to WEEE take back scheme from 2021

Organisations have certain legal responsibilities if they sell electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to provide free take-back services of old equipment.

The requirements around take-back services are set out in The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 (‘The WEEE Regulations’) and customers must be provided with a way to dispose of their old household electrical and electronic equipment when they purchase a new version of the same item. This applies regardless of how products are bought such as directly in a shop or by Internet, mail order or telephone.

There is an alternative to providing an in-store take-back service available to organisations; to join the Distributor Take-back Scheme (DTS). Being part of this scheme allows members an exemption from offering a free take-back service as members pay a fee that goes towards supporting recycling centres run by local authorities. The amount paid depends on the size of the business, whether the equipment is only sold online and how much EEE is sold.

The DTS operates in phases and is reviewed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra):

  • Phase 4 of the DTS came to an end on 31st December 2019
  • Phase 5 runs from 1st January 2020 until 31st December 2021, and will only be open to large retailers until the end of 2020. (Large retailers are those with an excess of £100,000 of turnover in sales of EEE.)

This means large retailers can only join the DTS for the first year of the fifth phase and they are then required to provide in-store take-back facilities from January 2021. Note this requirement does not apply to online-only retailers.

As the end of 2020 draws closer and this update in take-back requirements looms, what is the reason for this change?

The UK has WEEE collection targets that have not been achieved for the last three years. These targets are set out in the WEEE Regulations and come from the EU WEEE Directive. Data published by the Environment Agency shows that in the 2019 calendar year, 494,976 tonnes of household WEEE was collected, which was 55,156 tonnes below the overall UK collection target of 550,132 tonnes.

In order to try to meet future collection targets, changes were needed and the key to improving collection rates is to make it more convenient for consumers to recycle their waste electricals:

  • 42% of people would use WEEE recycling banks at supermarkets and shops if they were available.
  • 61% would use in-store drop off points in electrical retail stores, according to a recent survey.

By requiring large retailers to offer take-back services rather than having the option to pay the fee for the DTS it is hoped these facilities will support more people to recycle their items.

Another key part of helping to improve recycling rates of EEE is more information for consumers. In early 2020 a ‘Recycle Your Electricals’ campaign was launched to encourage and support more people to reuse and recycle their old electricals. This campaign has been financed by producers of EEE.

However, there are concerns that as the DTS is still open for online-only retailers these organisations are not currently having to take full responsibility to facilitate the recycling of old electrical equipment. As online retail continues to grow, this is certainly an area that Defra need to consider.

So if you are purchasing electrical equipment don’t forget to make use of the recycling facilities for your old item and help increase the recycling rates for WEEE.