City Electrical Factors is the only UK electrical wholesaler to have an in-house electrical waste recycling facility – naturally enough called Electrical Waste. Here, its Group Operations Director, Shaun Donaghey, reveals what Scotland does well when it comes to recycling – and what we could be doing a whole lot better as we bid to preserve the planet for future generations
Hello Shaun. What does Electrical Waste do?
We provide a fully transparent and legally compliant collection treatment system for all UK waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), including lamps, large and small appliances, display, batteries, air conditioning units and fridges. WEEE is one of the fastest growing waste sectors across the UK – it’s very dynamic.
So what is Scotland’s track record on recycling electrical products?
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has devolved powers from Westminster and operates slightly differently than in Wales, England and Northern Ireland. In terms of ethos and wanting to do the right thing, I think the Scottish Government and SEPA really want to lead by example. But of course, the reality is always slightly different. For example, SEPA ask for 72 hours’ notification before so-called ‘special waste’ is moved, and then you have to have a consignment note from them to actually do so. The reality is that people don’t wait and just move it anyway. So we’ve been lobbying SEPA to revise the process. I understand why they do it. Special waste covers all sorts of hazardous materials, and quite rightly, SEPA should be notified where it’s being moved to and from. I just think the actual practicalities are challenging.
What kind of things aren’t being recycled that could be?
Hazardous waste, batteries and cathode ray tubes. There aren’t a lot of treatment facilities in Scotland, so a lot of materials still move south of the border, which is crazy as the idea is to have it treated as close to source as possible. So there’s a lot of non-compliant treatment out there that we’re trying to prevent. We have the right systems to do things the right way. Unfortunately, you’re often competing with someone who just wants to scavenge value out of WEEE and dump the rest. That’s what we see a lot of.
Why do we seem to be so poor at it? Is it a lack of awareness?
Awareness is the key word. People get this smokescreen that it’s complicated, or they say: “Why should I bother? Fred’s not doing it.” But at the end of the day we’re trying to capture valuable resources that will inevitably go into a hole in the ground and be lost forever. So instead of digging in the ground for these materials, they live in the urban environment so we can capture them, re-use them and put them back in the supply chain. We outline the bigger picture and tell people that we’re talking about future generations. The way we’re using resources as a planet, we’ll be running out of finite materials at some point. SEPA has this great phrase – ‘one planet, three worlds’ – which means we’re using three times the amount of resources that the planet actually has.
At some point it’s going to dry up, so it’s important that recycling systems recapture and re-use materials properly.
Could it be a generational thing?
Do people see it as complicated?
Yes, that’s part of the myth; if it looks complicated you turn away from it. That’s why we make it simple and transparent and work with clients to help them understand their duties. The other thing is, it’s easier to accomplish things if people understand why it’s being done, rather than being forced to do it. If we’re forced to do something, we often drag our feet. But if we understand why we have to do it, that’s more of an inspirational thing. People will go: “I want to make a difference.”
Is there anything Scotland does well that we should see more of?
The Scottish Government’s zero waste ethos is to be welcomed and I think some of the laws they’re bringing in are very encouraging and ahead of the game. I do think Scotland is leading the way in looking for a circular economy and trying to make businesses compliant with waste regulations. However, translate that into reality and it’s slightly more challenging. The difficult thing is the trickle-down into industry itself – and that’s no different in Scotland from anywhere; it’s the same problem everywhere.
If I’m a small business, why should I bother recycling?
I think it’s that word: compliance. As businesses, we’re asked to do lots of things, including following the Duty of Care and Waste Regulations. We need to understand that this is a legal duty that includes consigning, collecting, storing and treating special waste properly, with proper evidence that it’s all happened. It’s a big responsibility, but we really do offer SMEs an easy solution to it.
What about SELECT Members?
This is where I think SELECT Members already have an advantage. I don’t know the exact membership criteria, but I would suspect that one of the tick boxes is understanding Duty of Care and your obligations to waste. A lot of companies say: “Oh I gave it to Fred and he gave me this bit of paper.” But that doesn’t cut the mustard – it’s your legal obligation to know your waste is being disposed of in an appropriate and legal manner.
Is there anything that’s not currently recyclable that should be?
The electronic sector is very dynamic and changes quickly, so a lot of different materials suddenly come into the recycling chain, like batteries. Battery technology is evolving and developing quickly, and we want more and more devices to be independent and mains-free. If someone is looking to the future, it’s one area that’s going to be a big problem for the UK as a whole, never mind Scotland. Electric cars are already being talked about as part of WEEE. But they obviously can’t go into the old shredder system – we’ll need a proper recovery and dismantling system.
How do we compare to other nations when it comes to recycling?
Very poorly. Scandinavia, Germany, France, Holland and most European countries are way ahead of us. Again, it’s an attitude thing – there’s more of an acceptance and willingness there. Also, they’re not throwaway economies like us. They’re much more like: “What can we do with it? Can we recycle it?” Here in the UK we’re more likely to say: “I’m throwing it out and it’s nothing to do with me.” But we need a carrot and stick approach; we need to educate people.
What are your aims and objectives?
To have an open and active network for all WEEE needs; making things transparent so everything is fully auditable and sustainable. Yes, there are obviously transactional costs, but customers get a very compliant system that captures valuable resources that would inevitably get lost otherwise.
To find out more about Electrical Waste, visit the CEF website at www.cef.co.uk