Large household appliances (e.g. ovens, fridges, washing machines) currently make up over 40% of WEEE but there are large volumes of other equipment such as IT equipment (mainly computers), TVs (over two million discarded each year), small household appliances (e.g. kettles and hair dryers), electrical tools, digital watches, electronic toys and medical devices.
Such items contain a wide variety of materials e.g. an average TV contains 6% metal and 50% glass, whereas a cooker is 89% metal and only 6% glass. Other materials found include plastics, ceramics and precious metals.
As a result of this complex mix of product types and materials, some of which are hazardous (including arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury and certain flame retardants) WEEE recycling poses a number of health risks that need to be adequately managed. For example, exposure to substances released during processing (such as mercury released from fluorescent tubes, lead and phosphorous pentachloride as a result of breaking cathode ray tubes).
It is important to stress that if effective measures are taken to control exposure to mercury and lead then normally the control of exposure to other hazardous substances should also be adequate.
The exact treatment of WEEE can vary enormously according to the category of WEEE and technology that is used. Some treatment facilities utilise large-scale shredding technologies, whilst other use a disassembly process, which can be manual, automated or a combination of both.
For disassembly operations, treatment facilities should comply with the minimum requirements specified in the DEFRA document Guidance on Best Available Treatment Recovery and Recycling Techniques (BATRRT) and treatment of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) . This provides a useful overview of the standards for treatment, recycling and recovery of materials from WEEE. It outlines the requirements for the removal of certain substances and components (see Guidance on Specific Substances/Components below).
For shredding operations, treatment facilities may not be required to remove these components and substances. This is dependent on the size and type of technology used, although some hazardous components and substances must be removed in advance to avoid risks to health and safety and damage to equipment.
The Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) have made available online a good practice guidance on the collection and processing of WEEE (including sections on treatment of WEEE and health and safety policies and procedures) directed at different audiences including AATFs and waste management companies which inspectors may find useful.