IRELANDIC CONSUMERS RECYCLE a record number of electrical items last year, but the country’s largest e-waste system has warned that its unsustainable targets need to be changed to reflect a more circular economy.
Despite the ever-increasing public awareness and participation, the goals do not count circular strategies already taken by businesses and consumers to prevent e-waste generation, including reuse and repair.
WEEE Ireland collected 18.7 million electrical items last year, the organization’s annual report shows.
Approximately 127,000 refrigerators and 205,000 TVs and monitors were found, as well as more than 2.3 million light bulbs in a total recovery of 38,464 tonnes – 57% of the average item sold over a three-year period.
The equivalent of more than 54 million used AA batteries were also saved from ending up in the landfill, the report shows.
WEEE Ireland’s CEO Leo Donovan warned, however, that the changing nature of the products means that the recycling and sales targets that characterize the European WEEE system “are no longer suitable for the purpose”.
“As a nation, we are consuming more electrical goods than ever before. Annual tonnage on the market increased by 50% in six years to 22 kg per animal last year, by 69 million units on the market in 2021,” he said.
“We must realize that many larger appliances do not reach the end of life in many years through design and repair strategies.
“If we buy more electronics, we must adopt a mantra with a plug-in, a plug-out because we do not have enough raw materials in the ground to keep pace with the growing global demand.
“Even though our percentage recovery rates are well above the European average, the distance to our mandatory target increases by 65% each year.
“The changing nature of products and their life cycles mean that the simple linear weight system is no longer suitable for the purpose.
“If a laptop is repaired or reused, it does not currently count towards Ireland’s environmental performance.
“New home technologies such as solar panels and heat pumps, for example, are large tonnage items that now have a lifespan of more than 15-20 years thanks to innovation from manufacturers.
“They will not reach the end of life for recycling in decades and still be counted in today’s measurements.
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“The same thing has happened in lighting, where long-lasting LED lamps change the nature of the landscape that was previously dominated by light bulbs for short use.”
He added: “We need to rapidly stimulate the transformation of the industry to deliver a more circular and resource efficient economy.
“An approach for all actors is needed through documentation of the flows of all devices and their materials by everyone involved in the value chain.”
In 2021, the corresponding 231,179 tonnes avoided CO2 emissions by recycling e-waste through the WEEE Ireland system as opposed to landfill. This corresponds to the annual coal consumption of 4,624 hectares of trees.
On average, 94% of the material was recycled for reuse in manufacturing or final energy recovery. The 20,702 tonnes of iron recovered are enough to build nearly three Eiffel Towers, Donovan said.
The country’s largest electricity and battery recycling system also exceeded the EU target of 45% for spent portable batteries in 2021 by 1% – with 1,085 tonnes collected, an increase of 16% compared to 2020.
57 percent of electrical waste was collected from retailers – an increase of 233 tonnes compared to the previous year, and the seventh year with increases, while 28 percent was collected at local government sites.
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