A government investigation is underway after cold water was thrown over claims that the UK has exceeded its waste electric and electronic equipment recycling target.

Business minister Matthew Hancock announced last month that 491,007 tonnes of WEEE was collected and recycled in 2014 – an increase of 4% on the overall total for 2013.

But new data has come to light suggesting that the UK could have fallen short of the 490,000-tonne collection target set by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government.

The figures from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills were based on the amount of WEEE evidence recorded by compliance schemes at the WEEE settlement centre.

However, the Environment Agency has now published provisional figures showing that just 481,263 tonnes of WEEE were treated by Approved Authorised Treatment Facility operators.

This would suggest that the UK was just under 10,000 tonnes short of meeting its overall WEEE collection target for 2014.

WEEE recycling

A BIS spokeswoman has confirmed that an investigation is underway to identify why there is a difference between the EA’s figure and the one quoted by the business minister. She said that some of the disparity may have been caused by a delay in the submission of data from some AATF operators.

“The EA is investigating the variance between WEEE received at approved authorised treatment facilities and WEEE collected by producer compliance schemes,” she explained.

When it comes to recycling WEEE, producer compliance schemes arrange for the waste to be collected before it is usually taken to an AATF to be disposed of.

However, holders of waste carrier licences can transport the WEEE to and AATT without involving a producer compliance schemes.

Skip hire companies are keen to see an increase in the amount of all waste recycled to combat the increase in landfill tax that comes into force on 1 April.

Landfill tax was introduced in the UK in 1996 to promote the use of more sustainable and resource efficient options for treating waste.

It is charged according to the weight of material deposited under two rates:

  • The lower rate only applies to wastes that contains no biodegradable material
  • The higher rate applies to all other waste that is taxable for Landfill Tax purposes and is chargeable at the standard rate

Until 2014, the higher rate increased at a fixed annual rate of £8 per tonne. But from this year increases will be linked to UK inflation rates and calculated according to the Retail Price Index.

This means from 1 April, the higher rate tax will increase from £80 to £82.60 per tonne, while the lower rate will rise 10p to £2.60 per tonne.

Efforts to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill do appear to be paying off. According to the latest government figures, 3.3 million tonnes of waste were sent for recycling or composting between April and June 2014, while just 1.58 million tonnes of waste were sent for landfill.

Whether the announcement by business minister Matthew Hancock that the UK collected 167,193 tonnes of large domestic appliances, 84,164 tonnes of TVs and monitors and 112, 274 tonnes of fridges and freezers in 2014 is confirmed or not, the government will stick to its target of increasing the amount of WEEE collected for recycling in 2015 to 508,756 tonnes.

Image credit: Mike Pennington

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