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WEEE is an acronym that stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic equipment. The waste stream itself is governed by a “Producer Responsibility Directive”. By it’s very definition, WEEE falls within what is known as the waste framework directive. The implication being that once it’s deemed waste, it has to be handled as waste. However, there is some ambiguity within the wider law:
“The UK interpretation of the EU Waste Framework Directive is that if a substance or object continues to be used for its original purpose, even after minor repair or refurbishment, then it is not waste.”
The Environment Agency’s Website states that “Something becomes waste when the holder discards or intends to discard it”
The point here is that something becomes a waste when you, the holder, discard it or intend to discard it. You are required to transfer such items “as waste” into the possession of a person authorised to take it away (see The Duty of Care). In such circumstances, an electronic item may only re-enter the consumer chain as EEE of REEE after it has passed through a recycling centre and been refurbished.
Vehicles transporting electronic items to refurbishment premises do not need to be registered as a waste carrier. Refurbishment premises, where the principle function is the refurbishment of computers, would not generally be considered to be a waste recovery operation. It follows that a refurbisher not carrying out a waste disposal or waste recovery operation would not need to inform the Environment Agency or SEPA of their activities. If a refurbisher cannot refurbish an item and sends it for recycling, then the refurbisher would not need to be licensed.
The act of “disposal” by the previous owner would negate the above statement. Whilst, in the eyes of the law, such equipment may be re-useable, it may also constitute a threat to the environment and as such may require monitoring by relevant authorities (the implications extend to the Hazardous waste regulations (2005) which designate responsibility to the holder of the waste). Even if used goods are sent for re-use, the recipient of the items, who is of no association to the original owner, may require registration under exemption as part of the WEEE Directive and as such would be required to report the movement of the items as waste. At the very least, the refurbisher would be required by law to register as a hazardous waste producer.
The Waste Hierarchy and its application:
The hierarchy is a great way to figure out the legislation that should be applied to any used goods. Whereas the first tier (reducing the production of wastes) and second tier (finding a new use for a potential waste product) require little intervention, in that they employ heuristic remedial measures, the third tier is a very final process. As such, the use of the term “recycling or recycler” to imply anything but recovery of raw or base materials / components is legally and morally incorrect.
Ultimately, a used electronic item is waste unless the holder gives it a monetary value – or it is donated to a good cause- all with a view to it being suitable for re-use.
If the holder sells a second hand “computer” as a “computer”, one can clearly differentiate that item from waste and demonstrate that the physical item was sold for its originally intended purpose. Similarly, if the holder donates the item to a school or charity or gives it to a friend, then it is clearly not waste.
This, however, falls down when the monetary value of the item is considerably less than the current market value and it forms part of a larger “bulk” consignment. As such, when purchased in “bulk” there is a risk that the goods may be seen to be of such little financial value to the original Holder that they are being sold at “waste value”. In such circumstances, it is in the interests of the “original holder” to transfer the goods- even if they are being purchased for use as originally intended- into the possession of someone Authorised to take them away (see Duty of Care).
There’s also the “age” factor to consider in all this. A consignment of electronic goods that are over a decade old would arouse the suspicion of any enforcement officer. Given the age of the equipment, there is little possibility of the items being re-used and they are more likely to be waste.
About the Author: Richard Anthony Johnson
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