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An Integrated Approach to Electronic Waste (WEEE) Recycling - WR0109

The project addresses the complex challenge of recycling waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) in a structured and integrated manner, incorporating economic, legislative, technical and environmental factors.

DEFRA Research Themes and Programme Areas:

Research Theme 2: Systems for resource recovery
Programme Area 2.3: Sorting systems, including processing and reprocessing technologies

The central objectives are to evaluate systems and logistics for handling WEEE and to examine technical strategies and methodologies for reprocessing wastes into primary and secondary higher added-value products.

Research Theme 1: Sustainable resource consumption and management
Programme Area 1.4: Understanding waste composition and trends

An underlying objective is to gather specific detailed information on the composition of non-MSW waste streams within each electronic manufacturing sector.

The project outputs will stimulate and enable the future strategic development of the recycling industry and improve public perception. The research will produce a series of sector-specific guidelines on tackling WEEE recycling integrated with a comprehensive review of existing and emerging technologies.

The project will address the complex challenge of recycling waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) in a structured and integrated manner, incorporating economic, legislative, technical and environmental factors. The novel approach will benefit the waste management and recycling industry sectors in the UK, as well as all main electronic equipment manufacturing sectors. Environmental sustainability is a key benefit to be delivered, e.g. optimal materials “recyclability”, minimal environmental impact, reduced transport miles. The results of the study should contribute strongly to significant and sustainable increases in the quantities of materials recycled.

WEEE has been identified as one of the fastest growing sources of waste in the EU, increasing by 16-28% every five years. Within each sector a complex set of heterogeneous secondary wastes is created. Although treatment requirements are complicated, the sources from any one sector possess many common characteristics. However, there exist huge variations in the nature of electronic wastes between sectors and treatment regimes appropriate for one cannot be readily transferred to another.

The originality and novelty of the research is centred on the generation of an integrated, hierarchical approach to WEEE recycling. A generic methodology will be developed that can be applied on a sectoral basis, and will be able to address each type of waste source characteristic of that particular industry. A top-down, treatment strategy will be introduced that will consider each typical industry sector waste in a holistic manner, taking into account all materials, dismantling processes and recovery stages in a layered analysis. This structured method will provide the intelligence necessary to enable sustainable, optimal technical solutions to be developed with low environmental impact.

A very large number of treatment technologies are available (e.g. mechanical, chemical, electro-mechanical, physico-chemical, electrochemical, thermal), both established and emerging, that singly and in combination can address the specific needs of each sector, but no single set of treatment methods can be applied universally. The project aims to deliver a comprehensive understanding of the capabilities, limitations, economic characteristics and environmental sustainability of the available technologies. Combination of this knowledge with the hierarchical ranking of each sector's waste arising will enable future strategic development plans to be implemented. Only an integrated, structured approach can address all materials-related, economic and environmental issues surrounding implementation of the WEEE regulations.

There have been many scoping studies carried out on WEEE within the UK perspective (1-8). The main focus areas of these studies were volumes and variations in materials found in different categories. The technologically based approach to develop an integrated hierarchical approach to sectoral recycling, which is the central focus of this proposal to DEFRA, is new and novel. The proposed contractors are not aware of any overlap with other studies in the public domain.

The first stage of ICER research has been completed (1), estimating arisings of domestic WEEE and how much is likely to be separately collected. This is the first stage of a new ICER status report on waste equipment in the UK, which is supported by BIFFAWARD. The next report, due summer 2005 will estimate arisings of commercial WEEE and provide a profile of the WEEE processing industry in the UK. The complementary results from the ICER research will be very timely in providing input to assist the efficient delivery of the research detailed in this proposal to DEFRA, but there is no direct overlap with the ICER research. Biffa Waste Services is also providing in-kind support for this proposal to DEFRA, and recognises the need for this technologically based research (see letter of support).European references (13-18), particularly those related to recent EU research, are given. No direct overlap has been found, but these are good sources for high quality research and technical input.
Overall Scientific Objectives

* Analysis of waste composition and trends for each electronic sector and intelligence on business and market needs

* Collection, analysis and dissemination of information on scientific and technological developments in processing/reprocessing techniques and benchmarking of current state of the art

* Formulation of a generic methodology for resource recovery tailored to each electronic sector by integrating technological needs with available technologies, including life cycle analysis, manufacturing for recycling guidelines, socio-economic aspects

* Dissemination or the project outputs

Specific Objectives

(a) Sectoral WEEE waste composition, trends and logistics

Detailed definition of structure and materials composition of the types of waste emerging from each WEEE sector. Sector-based analysis of resource recovery logistical issues.

(b) Intelligence on resource recovery technologies

Detailed technological, economic and environmental intelligence reviewing the spectrum of capabilities available, including current industrial technology, emerging technology close to industrial implementation, significant research in the area

c) Develop an integrated hierarchical approach to sectoral recycling needs and aims

For each sector, match the treatment objectives with the technological methods available now and in the future. Formulate a best practice strategy and approach in each case. The aim is to provide the capability to maximise the value of recovered products and achieve sustainable recycling routes for all materials, not just the highest value components.

(d) Life cycle analysis

Assess the sustainability of the complete life cycle of electronic waste for each generic sectoral treatment methodology. Measure the environmental sustainability of all logistical and operational activities.

(e) Manufacturing guidelines for improved sustainability in resource consumption

Provide feedback to manufacturing organisations in the range of electronics sectors. The aim is to improve product design with “recyclability” as key factor to reduce waste production and enhance resource recovery.
(f) Socio-economic analysis

Assess the impact of societal issues on the economics. The objective is to measure the specific impact with respect to the generic methodologies for resource recovery identified in the case of each electronic sector waste type, not a general study on social and economic issues.

(g) Dissemination activities

The results of the project will be widely disseminated to the community, including the relevant industrial sectors such as electronics manufacturing, waste management, and waste reprocesssing.

(h) Project management

The objectives are to deliver the full project outputs on time and to budget.
Project Documents
• Final Report : An integrated approach to electronic waste (WEEE) recycling SID5 (part 2)   (254k)
• Executive Summary : An integrated approach to electronic waste (WEEE) recycling SID5 (part 1)   (61k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2005

To: 2006

Cost: £260,596
Contractor / Funded Organisations
C-Tech Innovation Limited
Environmental Protection              
Establishing a sound database for waste management              
Evaluation of current waste management policies              
Monitoring and evaluation              
Policy Development              
Processing technologies for biodegradable MSW              
Sustainable Consumption and Production              
Sustainable Resource Consumption and Management              
Systems for Resource Recovery              
Understanding resource flows              
Understanding waste composition and trends              
Waste collection and handling systems              
Waste Management              
Fields of Study
Waste Management