WEEE recycling is a key component of waste removal and rubbish clearance in East, West and mid-Sussex and the surrounding areas, and indeed the country at large. Throughout the UK we generate over 2 million tonnes of WEEE waste every year.
In 2006, the government introduced WEEE Regulations to ensure these products are dealt with and disposed of safely. The legislation is regularly revised to expand requirements to include the recovery, recycling and reusing of the growing number of WEEE products. The most recent update in 2019, widened the range of products to include electric tools, electronic tools, toys such as games consoles medical equipment, monitoring equipment, automatic dispensers, large and small household appliances (e.g. Fridge-freezers and toasters) IT, communications, TVs and radios.
DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) has stipulated different requirements for the treatment of each product / category. For example, some need to be dissembled manually whereas others require large shredding machines to break down the components. Whether a machine is used or the process is manual, there are very specific processes that need to be followed in order to remove elements that can be recycled, resold and reused. All hazardous materials need to be extracted and contained to prevent injury or damage.
Apart from the environmental issues of discarding old electronic items in a landfill, the removal of metals and toxic elements crucial in order to prevent leakage into the ground, water and food chains for both humans and animals. The Guidance on Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT) and treatment of waste electrical and electronic equipment WEEE outlines the correct methods of removal.
There are personal and public safety concerns associated with WEEE waste collection, some of which are obvious and other less so. You may not realise that mercury is present in fluorescent light bulbs or that something as seemingly innocuous as an old toaster may have asbestos in it. Taking a shortcut when disposing of WEEE equipment can be not only detrimental to the environment, you could be putting your own and other people’s health at risk. You may not realise that you may be handling and releasing potentially lethal and carcinogenic substances.
Professional waste removal teams understand the risks involved and will not take unnecessary risks. All items will be handled and disposed of correctly. Here are the most common WEEE waste hazards that need to be considered when getting rid of old electronic and electric equipment:
RCF (Refractory Ceramic Fibres)
RCFs are fibres that are melted, spun or blown to create products like glass wool. It is used mainly in commercial products as it is lightweight and has high-heat insulation properties, making it ideal for lining heaters, furnaces and kilns. It has been identified as a Category 2 carcinogen, so it is crucial that due diligence and the necessary precautions are taken when disposing of items where this type of material may be present.
It is difficult to believe that your smoke detector or luminous watch or alarm clock could contain radioactive elements. Old camera lenses, some flatscreen TV, antique glassware and pottery and even exit sign can contain radioactive elements.
PCBs (Polychlorinated biphenyls)
PCBs could be present in old electrical devices, transformers, cable insulation, hydraulic systems etc. PCBs are manmade chemicals that can enter the body by ingesting contaminated food and water, via the air and contact on the skin. They are absorbed and stored in fatty tissue. PCBs can be extremely harmful, affecting the skin, liver, immune and reproductive systems, it can also cause cancer and birth defects.
Asbestos can be present in some older appliances like coffee pots, toasters and in some heaters. These products should be examined and a risk assessment carried out and handled with the correct precautions as outlined in the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2006.
Lead and phosphorous
Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) may be made using lead or phosphorous, in which case it will be necessary to treat it correctly when removing the fluorescent coating from the glass.
The use of mercury was banned in 2006 except for the production of batteries and circuit boards. It may seem unbelievable today, but until this change in the law mercury was present in all types of products including fluorescent lights, mobile phones, medical equipment and TVs.
Did you know that Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) flatscreen TVs, laptops and monitors need to be disposed of following a specific process? This is because mercury has been used in the fluorescent back lighting on LCD TVs (not plasmas), with an estimated 3.5mg used per each average 37-inch TV. If not dealt with safely, this could pose a serious risk to public health.
Surely not printing cartridges? Yes, that right, photocopiers, printers and old fax machine toner cartridges need to be removed in tact to be prevent the toner being dispersed. They need to be stored in a clearly labelled secure container.
It is in your own interests to take the time to find a professional waste removal company that is regulated, fully insured and has the know-how to safety dispose of electronic waste. This way you are not only helping to keep yourself and the planet safe, when dissembled correctly many of the elements can be reused and resold, which also helps the economy.