How the UK Government Can Support a Post-Brexit Circular Economy for Electronics

By Jack Herring, CEO of Jiva Materials Ltd

A new chapter in the story of Britain’s relationship with Europe is being written. For exactly 47 years, Britain played a part in introducing many of the regulations that the European Union established to standardise the waste handling efforts of the member states.

Perhaps the most important of the waste categories is electrical and electronic waste; now the fastest growing waste stream in the world, with a staggering 53.6 million metric tons generated in 2019. According to The Global E-Waste Monitor 2020 report by the United Nations University, only 17.4% of this was properly collected and recycled.

Whilst Europe boasts the highest collection and recycling rate out of all of the continents in 2019 of 42.5%, the Basel Action Network reports that the UK was the largest exporter of e-waste in the EU during its membership.   It was believed that 64% of shipments leaving the EU were sent to Africa and up to 50% of all e-waste dumped in Ghana was coming came from the UK.

Throughout Britain’s membership of the EU, it was predominantly the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Regulations that enforced control of the waste stream collecting, recycling and recovery. Following Britain’s departure from the European Union, the responsibility of building upon the EU’s foundations of electronic and electrical waste collection and recycling now falls on the shoulders of the Government of the United Kingdom.

In an attempt to improve upon the UK’s past waste processing rates, an enquiry was launched by The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC). The main targets of the investigation included exploring how the UK can reduce its environmental impact, create economic opportunities and maintain access to critical raw materials via an optimised e-waste handling strategy.

The enquiry was relaunched in the summer of 2020, with most of the formal meetings being made available to watch on the UK Parliament website. The meeting of July 16th gathering evidence surrounding ‘Electronic Waste and the Circular Economy’ proved very interesting, with attendees from international corporations including Samsung, Beko, Dixons Carphone and Amazon.

The Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee is Philip Dunne MP, successor to Labour’s Mary Creagh who was publicly outspoken about the problem of planned obsolescence that is plaguing the electricals and electronics industries. Creagh stated that the UK is “one of the worst offenders for exporting e-waste to developing countries ill-equipped to dispose of it in a socially and environmentally responsible way.”

No conclusion to the enquiry has yet been announced, although it is expected that an increased responsibility for electrical and electronic waste will be placed in the hands of the manufacturers moving forward; it is yet to be seen if or how the trade deal will impact Europe’s growing WEEE problem.

We wait with bated breath for the outcome now that the road is clearer for the UK following the completion of Brexit. With a combination of more responsibility from consumers of products that will eventually contribute to WEEE and an increase in traction from innovators operating in the recycling space, now is the time for the UK to become world leaders in tackling the problem of electrical and electronic waste.

Read more about the enquiry at the link below: