The UK government must do more to raise consumer awareness of the need for recycling old electrical and electronic equipment, according to a survey commissioned by a consortium of electrical product manufacturers.
The survey, carried out by YouGov for the Recycling Electrical Producers’ Industry Consortium (REPIC) assessed consumer’s recycling habits and their awareness of the EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (the WEEE Directive).
The WEEE Directive sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment. It was due to be implemented in the UK in August 2004, but the Government announced a fourth delay in publishing draft regulations last week.
While the Directive largely puts recycling responsibility on the shoulders of retailers and manufacturers, it is dependent upon consumer cooperation – although the WEEE Directive does not penalise consumers for failing to recycle.
According to REPIC survey, 84 per cent of the British population have never heard of the WEEE Directive. Consumer knowledge of the Directive is unimportant, provided people do send waste for recycling whenever possible; but the survey of 2,345 UK residents found that we generally don't bother.
The Government is obliged by the WEEE Directive to ensure that people are given the necessary information about recycling. The Government is also told to "adopt appropriate measures so that consumers participate in the collection of WEEE and to encourage them to facilitate the process of reuse, treatment and recovery".
Currently, the survey found that nearly half the population still throws out old kettles, irons and other small appliances with the household rubbish, while fewer than one in ten deliberately recycles household appliances, large or small.
Consumers are most likely to responsibly dispose of bulky items such as washing machines, fridge-freezers and tumble-driers. Just over 40 per cent of those polled take large items to their local civic amenity site, while 33 per cent pay their local council to collect their large items. Twenty-seven per cent expect the retailer who sold them its replacement to take the old item away for free.
Despite their low awareness of the new laws, the survey found that consumers have strong opinions on how items should be collected for recycling. Asked where they should be able to leave unwanted electrical and electronic equipment for collection, six out of ten opted for a designated recycling area or local civic amenity site. Other preferred options include outside their home (38 per cent) and/or the retail store where they bought its replacement (32 per cent).
“Our survey shows that there is still much work to be done to raise consumer awareness of this issue,” said REPIC chief executive Dr Phil Morton. “Government and industry must provide the commonsense, convenient solutions to recycling household electrical and electronic waste that consumers in our survey are demanding.”
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