Electronic waste warning due to record number of recycled electrical items

Irish consumers disposed of a record number of electrical goods last year, but the country’s largest e-waste recycling program has warned that its unsustainable targets need to be changed to reflect a more closed economy.

despite ever-increasing public awareness and participation, the goals do not take into account the cyclical strategies already undertaken by businesses and consumers to prevent e-waste, including reuse and refurbishment.

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

Approximately 127,000 refrigerators and 205,000 televisions and monitors were returned, as well as more than 2.3 million light bulbs, totaling 38,464 tons, 57% of the average number of goods sold over a three-year period.

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Irish consumers recycled a record number of electrical products last year, but Leo Donovan, CEO of the country’s largest recycling scheme, WEEE Ireland, warned that unsustainable targets need to be changed to include the reuse and repair of electrical products in a circular economy. Photo: Robbie Reynolds No reproduction fee

The report shows that the equivalent of more than 54 million used AA batteries have also been saved from landfill.

However, WEEE Ireland chief executive Leo Donovan warned that the changing nature of the products meant that the refining and sales targets, which are the benchmark of the European WEEE system, “are no longer on target”.

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

“We have to recognize that many large home appliances don’t reach their end of life for many years thanks to design and repair strategies.

If we buy more electronics, we need to adopt the “one plug, one plug” mantra as we don’t have enough raw materials to keep up with the growing global demand.Leo Donovan, WEEE, Ireland

“If we are buying more electronics, we need to adopt the ‘one plug, one plug’ mantra as we don’t have enough raw materials to keep up with growing global demand.

“While our return percentage levels are well above the European average, the distance to our mandatory return target of 65% is increasing every year.

“The changing nature of products and their life cycles means that a simple linear scale system is no longer suitable for this purpose.

“If a laptop is repaired or reused, it does not currently count towards Ireland’s environmental metrics.

“New home technologies such as solar photovoltaic panels and heat pumps, for example, are high-volume products that now have a lifespan of more than 15 to 20 years thanks to manufacturers’ innovations.

“They won’t reach the end of their recycling life for decades, and yet they still count in today’s target measurements.

“The same thing has happened to lighting, where long-lasting LED bulbs are changing the character of a landscape previously dominated by short-lived incandescent bulbs.”

We need to quickly spur industry transformation to create a more inclusive and resource efficient economy.Leo Donovan, WEEE, Ireland

He added: “We need to rapidly drive transformation in the industry to create a more circular and resource efficient economy.

“A participatory approach is needed by documenting the flows of all appliances and their materials by all participants in the value chain.”

In 2021, 231,179 tonnes of CO2 equivalent were avoided by recycling e-waste under Ireland’s WEEE scheme rather than landfilling. This is equivalent to the annual carbon consumption of 4624 hectares of trees.

On average, 94% of the material was recovered for reuse in production or for ultimate energy recovery. According to Mr. Donovan, 20,702 tons of reclaimed iron is enough to build almost three Eiffel Towers.

The country’s largest electric and battery recycling scheme also exceeded the EU’s 45% target for used portable batteries in 2021 by 1%, with 1,085 tons collected, up 16% from 2020.

Fifty-seven percent of electrical waste was collected at retail sites – 233 tons more than the previous year, its seventh year of growth – and 28% was collected at local government sites.