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Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling (WEEE) - a specialist part of the waste and recycling industry

Dan Cronin, UK Commercial Manager, EMR

Introduction to WEEE waste banner

As modern life has come to rely on an ever-greater range of appliances and gadgets, the amount of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) produced in the UK has grown fast.

As a global leader in sustainable materials, EMR has invested in innovative technology and a service adapted to our customers’ needs, which ensures more of this waste material is processed. It can then re-enter the supply chain as a lower carbon alternative to virgin metals and plastics.

The ways that EMR handles WEEE is in line with an EU directive which has since been transposed into UK law. These rules include the fact that electronic waste – any product with a battery or plug – must not end up in landfill or be exported for material recovery.

Of these products, EMR handles three key waste streams including large domestic appliances (such as washing machines and dishwashers), temperature exchange equipment (mostly fridges and freezers), and small domestic appliances (including toasters and kettles).

This waste is then recycled as part of a ‘producer pays’ model, which means that the manufacturers of these products have the responsibility to ensure they are responsibly recycled. Rather than work individually with the many hundreds of brands creating consumer electric products, Producer Compliance Schemes contract trusted recyclers like EMR to handle this waste on these manufacturers’ behalf.

In turn, our business provides traceability as well as a range of state-of-the-art processes, enabling the material from end-of-life appliances to have a second useful life as part of a sustainable, circular supply chain.

When it comes to WEEE recycling, EMR has the largest network of advanced processing facilities in the UK.

EMR Willesden is the only fridge recycling plant in the London area, operating at a scale that means it can recycle fridges from much of Southern England. Our second major facility is located at EMR Darlaston, recycling fridges and freezers for the Midlands and North. EMR is currently investing significantly in this second site, creating a brand-new facility which will have the capacity to recycle more fridges than our current Willesden and Darlaston sites combined.

Large domestic appliances, meanwhile, can be recycled through our eight shredding facilities across the UK in much the same way as we recycle end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). EMR’s decades of experience and focus on innovation means that ferrous, non-ferrous and even plastics – via MBA Polymers UK – can be separated and densified ready to be reused in the next generation of appliances, vehicles or building materials.

Finally, EMR’s more than 60 UK facilities mean that we offer a huge network of local collection services for small appliances across the UK. We work with a range of specialist partners to ensure this waste is then handled safely to avoid the risk of fire while extracting the maximum amount of recyclable material possible and minimising the carbon footprint.

In its role as a market leading recycler of WEEE, EMR is working hard to raise standards across the industry. One area of particular focus is the handling of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). While MBA Polymers UK can recycle a broad range of plastics, POPs include harmful chemicals, which cannot be broken down naturally in the environment or safely recycled.

These materials have been used for decades in products such as vacuum cleaners, sofas and many other household items where they are used as a flame retardant.

EMR is creating new ways to separate these POPs from the waste stream where they can be safely incinerated, minimising one of the most challenging emerging threats to biodiversity.

It’s yet another example of how EMR is helping to transform WEEE recycling for the better. As our world continues to be defined by new technology and the UK works to reach net-zero by 2050, ensuring appliances don’t end up in landfill will be vital.

At EMR, we’re busy turning this aspiration into a reality.