Where is the WEEE in your home?

7 December 2023

Olivia Poole

I have spent the majority of this year working on a new market report for AMI, titled “An Introduction to the Recycling of Engineering Polymers”, which looks at both the mechanical and chemical recycling of ABS/SAN, PC, PA, PBT, POM and PMMA in Europe.

During this time I also bought a new phone. Being more informed on the end-of-life journey of waste electrical and electronic equipment (commonly termed WEEE), I hoped to ensure my old phone was enveloped into the circular economy and recycled into new products. So what did I do with it? I put it in a drawer.

Last year, I also bought a new laptop. Its predecessor is currently living in the same drawer, unused, but too sentimentally valuable to dispose of.

Of course takeback schemes and municipal collection points are available, but it is also very easy to leave these products somewhere out of the way at home, always ready for that “just in case” moment they are needed to spring back into life.

I felt more at ease about this habit when, in the course of my research for this report, I found that the average household owns 74 electrical and electronic items (excluding lamps and lights), of which 61 are in use, nine are hoarded at home but working, and four are hoarded but not working. A quick survey of the “WEEE drawer” put me at a little below average, but still comfortably in range.

This is not such a shocking figure when you consider how the number of electronic devices a person owns has exploded in the past decade, from small devices such as phones, laptops, tablets and smart watches to household appliances such as washing machines, freezers, kettles and toasters. There was an estimated 12.4 million tonnes of electrical equipment put on the market in 2020, up from 7.6 million tonnes in 2012. But more on the market means more going to waste, some through formal collection systems, but much ending up in landfill or incineration (or being hoarded at home it seems!) The challenges for a second life do not end once WEEE is properly collected. Plastics are often subject to negative sorting, where they are considered the contaminant to higher volume target material (such as metals), with only a select few polymers suitable for extraction. The European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers estimate that the average yield of plastic recycling processes from WEEE is around 60%.

If you would like to talk further about plastics in WEEE, automotive, medical, or construction waste or about how engineering polymers are treated at end of life, feel free to get in touch and I can send you a sample of our report An Introduction to Recycling of Engineering Polymers Europe 2023.

So how can I ensure my old phone is granted a second lease of life? Certainly not by leaving it in a desk drawer, but if there’s a WEEE, there’s a way!