E-waste alert as record number of recycled electrical items

Irish consumers recycled a record number of electrical items last year, but the country’s biggest e-waste scheme has warned its shaky targets need to be changed to reflect a more circular economy.

Despite ever-increasing public awareness and participation, the targets do not count on the circular strategies already introduced by businesses and consumers to prevent the generation of e-waste, including reuse and repair.

WEEE Ireland collected 18.7 million waste electrical items last year, the organization’s annual report shows.

Some 127,000 fridges and 205,000 TVs and monitors were recovered, as well as more than 2.3 million lightbulbs in a total takeback of 38,464 tons – 57% of the average merchandise sold over the three-year period.

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Irish consumers recycled a record number of electrical items last year, but Leo Donovan, CEO of WEEE Ireland, the country’s largest recycling scheme, has warned that a circular economy to include the reuse and repair of electrical items has Unstable goals need to be changed. Photo: Robbie Reynolds No Repro Fee

The report shows that the equivalent of more than 54 million used AA batteries were also saved from ending up in landfills.

However, WEEE Ireland chief executive Leo Donovan warned that the changing nature of products means that the recycling versus sales targets that benchmark the European WEEE system are “no longer fit for purpose”.

“As a nation, we are consuming more electrical goods than ever before. The annual tonnage on the market grew by 50% in six years to 22 kg last year, with 69 million units placed in the market in 2021,” he said.

“We need to recognize that many large appliances do not reach their end of life for many years through design and repair strategies.

If we are buying more electronics, we need to adopt one plug in, one plug out mantra as we do not have enough raw material to meet the growing global demand.Leo Donovan, WEEE Ireland

“If we are buying more electronics, we need to adopt a plug in, one plug out mantra because we do not have enough raw materials in the ground to meet the growing global demand.

“While our percentage takeback level is well above the European average, the distance to our mandated 65% takeback target is increasing every year.

“The changing nature of products and their life cycles mean that simple linear load systems are no longer fit for purpose.

“If a laptop is repaired or reused it is not currently counted in Ireland’s environmental performance.

“Newer household technologies such as solar PV panels and heat pumps, for example, are large tonnage items, which now have a life span of more than 15-20 years thanks to innovation by producers.

“They will not reach end of life for recycling for decades and yet count in today’s target measurement.

“The same has happened in lighting, where long-lasting LED bulbs are changing the nature of a landscape already dominated by less-used incandescent bulbs.”

To provide a more circular and resource efficient economy we need to rapidly stimulate change across the industryLeo Donovan, WEEE Ireland

He said: “We need to accelerate change in industry to deliver a more circular and resource efficient economy.

“An all-actor approach is needed through documentation of the flow of all devices and their materials by everyone involved in the value chain.”

In 2021, the equivalent of 231,179 tonnes of CO2 emissions was avoided by recycling e-waste through the WEEE Ireland scheme as opposed to landfilling. This is equivalent to the annual carbon consumption of 4,624 hectares of trees.

On average, 94% of the material was recovered for re-use in construction or eventual energy recovery. Mr Donovan said the recovered 20,702 tonnes of iron is enough to build about three Eiffel Towers.

The country’s largest electrical and battery recycling scheme also exceeded the EU’s 45% target for waste portable batteries by 1% in 2021 – with 1,085 tonnes collected, a 16% increase over 2020.

75 percent of electrical waste was collected from retailer sites – 233 tonnes last year and the seventh year of increase, while 28% was collected at local authority sites.