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POPs in WEEE: Updated Guidance

George Atkinson
Jun 16, 2020

The Environment Agency have updated their guidance to waste operators and exporters on how to classify and the management of some fractions of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).The guidance updates the list of components of WEEE that are adjudged to contain hazardous substances or persistent organic pollutants (POPs) at concentrations that could endanger human health if not treated and disposed of in the correct manner.

Assessment

From now on, waste operators receiving WEEE must identify if hazardous chemicals and POPs are present above the Agency’s stated concentration limits within non-household office equipment such as photocopiers and printers, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments and automatic dispensers. Only following this assessment can waste operators begin to treat WEEE received.

Items must be treated as POPs-containing until an assessment is carried out, with the same guidance applying to WEEE that is treated prior to any such assessment.

WEEE containing POPs must not be reused or recycled. Instead it must be destroyed or irreversibly transformed, even in situations where output fractions from treatment processes have diluted the level of POPs to below the legal concentration limit.

Operators are advised to remain mindful that removing components from WEEE may increase POPs concentrations, which must then be assessed and treated as POPs waste accordingly and destroyed where appropriate.

Classification

The updated guidance outlines the Environment Agency’s view that components containing hazardous substances or POPs can be found in printed circuit boards (PCBs), plastic casings, cables, insulation foam, cooling agents and more, giving information on how to classify components and plastic fractions typically removed during treatment processes.

Hazardous waste codes must be assigned to printed circuit boards (PCBs), cables from WEEE and plastic cases from display devices and mixed waste containing plastic from the treatment of WEEE. Treated plastic waste from fridges and freezers is also expected to be hazardous, however purely plastic fractions of the treated waste can be assigned a non-hazardous waste code, with the same guidance applying the granulated cable plastics free of copper and other materials.

Whilst large domestic appliances (LDA) are not considered hazardous or POPs waste, operators are advised that removing POPs-containing plastics or PCBs from them may increase the concentration levels within those components, rendering them hazardous.

Where density separation is used to separate brominated flame retardants (including hazardous chemicals and POPs) from uncontaminated plastics, non-hazardous waste codes can be applied to both output fractions if they are purely plastic.

Reuse and Export

The updated guidance does not alter the status of electrical devices containing POPs in respect of their re-use; important for charities, reuse shops or individuals selling or giving items away. EEE of any age can be re-used provided it is not, and was never previously classed as waste (e.g. vinyl record player).

Waste electricals containing POPs must not be reused. WEEE that is POPs waste cannot cease to be a waste, unless recyclers can demonstrate that POPs are not present in a particular device or item of equipment.

The Environment Agency have ruled that EEE manufactured after January 2009 is ‘much less likely’ to contain hazardous substances. As a result, EEE can only be reused in the UK if it can be proved it was manufactured after 1 January 2009 and meets all other requirements for reuse. The same guidance applies to export for reuse of PCBs, cables and internal wiring and plastic components not classed as waste.

WEEE and used EEE can only be exported to EU or OECD countries for recovery if operators can demonstrate they have checked each item to make sure it is not POPs waste, with exporting for disposal or the export of hazardous waste to non-OECD countries being prohibited.

 

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