How COVID-19 has impacted 2020 WEEE recycling rates

COVID-19 influence on WEEE sector

The first quarter of 2020 met the targets set for WEEE waste collections, but what effect has COVID-19 had on the sector and its goals?

WEEE collection targets changed for 2020

With the end of 2019 bearing the third year of unmet WEEE collection targets, 2020’s goal was edited by the EA in the hopes to create a more attainable figure.

After revisions of the 550,577-tonne target from 2019 by the Environment Agency, the new set goal for 2020 was lowered to 537,976 tonnes. This significant reduction was promising for the UK, as after three years of unsuccessfully meeting the WEEE collection target, many wondered if 2020 was to be the fourth.

Q1 of 2020 held promising results…

From January to March (Q1), collection rates were surpassing the revised goals set for the first quarter of the year. From the 134,494 tonne goal, a total of 134,610 tonnes was collected at the start of this year. However, these monitored months only include 1 week of the lockdown restrictions, while the second quarter’s results are bound to be much more affected.

If COVID-19 had not affected the UK, the rates expected of the second quarter for the year (April to June) would have been very similar to that of the first, and possibly have even set us on track to surpass the year’s target. Unfortunately, the virus slowed or halted the operations of many sectors, including WEEE facilities.

Some facilities did remain operational, however, including S2S. These businesses did manage to collect and recycle some electronic waste which has contributed to the figures for the second quarter, but not enough to come close to the set target.

‘Lockdown has had a profound impact on both local authority and commercial WEEE collections in Q2. As a result, it already seems likely that full-year targets will not be met in most WEEE categories.’

Nigel Harvey, CEO of Recolight

What effect COVID-19 had on the WEEE sector

COVID-19 effect on the WEEE sector

With many businesses closed during the lockdown period, the number of waste collections between the months of April to June has been considerably lower than that of the previous months. Provisional figures yet to be confirmed by the EA already state only 64,039 tonnes was collected in the second quarter of the year, less than half of the amount collected in the first.

Some WEEE facilities have used the opportunity of lockdown to adapt their operations to ensure the safety of their staff and clients. However, new systems and equipment take time to implement.

Because of these closures and restrictions, the collection targets for the second quarter of 2020 have not been met, possibly resulting in another year of unsuccessfully achieving the collection goals.

A shift in remote working

Another difficulty with meeting the collection goals is that the pandemic has prevented many businesses from disposing of their IT at all. With the shift in remote working, 60% of the UK population is working from home due to the pandemic, and so IT which was once ready for recycling is now being used for remote working needs.

Furthermore, Government data also reveals that managers and directors are more likely to work from home than many other occupations. Meaning that the individuals often responsible for a business’s IT asset disposal and recycling, may not be at work and able to organize collections.

How can we move forward?

With many WEEE recycling centres now open and running again, it is important, now more than ever, that businesses and individuals begin to recycle their e-waste and do their bit for the reuse of the valuable assets and elements in them. 

It is extremely unlikely that the repercussions of the pandemic will be completely overcome and the goal will be met for 2020 WEEE recycling. However, through businesses adapting to the ‘new normal’ way of working and beginning to make collections again, the WEEE sector can take steps to begin increasing the frequency of their operations, and set up a promising start to 2021. 


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