Duty of Care for WEEE POPs

The Environment Agency have issued guidance on duty of care related to dealing with POPs from Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). This guidance highlights appropriate measures operators within the recycling industry need to take to correctly handle POPs from WEEE. To help provide support on this complex matter, Wiser Environment outlines where the waste controls apply.


Wiser Environment understands that the Environment Agency (EA) has sent written correspondence to operators who handle waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Their letter prompts WEEE and other recyclers to comply with the legal requirements for persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and provides waste classification guidance.

As previously highlighted, POPs are chemicals that are resistant to most natural degradation processes. As a consequence, these chemicals can persist in the environment and pose a toxic risk; eventually, making their way back into the food chain.

Historically, electrical and electronic equipment used POPs as a fire retardant. For example, brominated flame retardants are a manmade POP compound that used to be added to display equipment to reduce its flammability.

Research by the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER) found that many categories of WEEE contained high levels of POPs. This includes – but not limited to – display equipment, large household appliances, small mixed WEEE and lighting equipment. In 2019, WEEE that contained POPs were classified as hazardous waste. Therefore, those waste types are subject to hazardous waste controls. Namely:

Classifying WEEE POPs - Wiser Guidance

Download Wiser Environment’s WEEE POPs Classification Guidance.

  • Tracking hazardous WEEE movements with hazardous waste consignment notes.
  • All parties to keep Hazardous waste records.
  • Avoid recycling or reusing WEEE POPs.
  • Submit quarterly hazardous waste consignee returns.
  • Reject and report to the EA any waste arriving without a consignment note.

WEEE POPs and Duty of care

As an industry-standard, operators have a Duty of Care that requires them to handle waste responsibly and only transfer waste to authorised businesses. In other words, recyclers must make sure that they – and their supply chain – are authorised to handle WEEE POPs. In the EA’s letter, they raised their primary concern that businesses will incorrectly classify WEEE POPs. The regulator argues that this will lead to further mismanagement of WEEE and potentially put the environment at risk.

For example, if an operator exports WEEE without notifying the importer of the presence of POPs then those persistent compounds may be used to create manufactured good and continue to be on the EEE marketplace. To avoid such events, the EA recommends that operators review their procedures and maintain compliance.

Correctly classifying WEEE

To support operators with identifying and classifying their waste, Wiser Environment has prepared information on waste classification codes for WEEE. This information also includes detailing which WEEE items are considered hazardous and contain POPs. The below waste classification guidance can also be found in the EA’s written correspondence to WEEE operators.

WEEE TypeClassificationHazardous Waste StatusPOPs Status
Large Domestic Appliances (LDA)
– white goods
20 01 36 Household typeNon-hazardous wasteNon-POPs
Refrigeration equipment containing ozone depleting substances20 01 23* Household type 16 02 11* OtherHazardous waste Non-POPs waste
Other refrigeration equipment20 01 35* Household type 16 02 13* OtherHazardous wasteNon-POPs waste
Display Devices
- Cathode ray tubes
- Flat Panel
20 01 35* Household typeHazardous wastePOPs waste
Small mixed WEEE (SMW)20 01 35* and 20 01 36 (assign two codes)Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Separately collected categories of WEEE (of a household type and from any source)
1. Large household appliances (other than LDA white goods)
2. Small household appliances
3. IT and telecoms equipment
4. Consumer equipment
5. Lighting equipment
6. Electrical and electronic tools
7. Toys, leisure and sport equipment
20 01 35* and 20 01 36 (assign two codes)Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Office equipment (dual use – of a type similar to household items)20 01 35* and 20 01 36 (assign two codes) Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Office equipment
- business to business
16 02 13*Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Categories
8. Medical Devices
9. Monitoring and Control Instruments
10. Automatic dispensers
20 01 35* Household type 16 02 13* OtherHazardous wastePOPs waste
Lamps and Lightbulbs with plastic components and/or printed circuit boards.20 01 35* Household type 16 02 13* Other Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Plastic components removed from display devices (including those that are subsequently baled, crushed or shredded)16 02 15* and 16 02 16 (dual codeHazardous wastePOPs waste
Printed Circuit Boards (including those removed before or during waste treatment)16 02 15*Hazardous wastePOPs waste
WEEE Cable - interior and exterior (including those removed before or during waste treatment)16 02 15* and 16 02 16 (dual code)Hazardous wastePOPs waste
Other WEEE not listed20 01 35* Household type 16 02 13* OtherHazardous wastePOPs waste

Exporting WEEE POPs

Approved Exporters (AE) of WEEE operators must also adhere to additional export procedures. AEs can only export WEEE POPs to EU or Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. It is important to note that the EA does not permit exporting WEEE for disposal. Instead, exporting for recovery is the only option available. What is more, the ultimate intention is to irreversibly transform – or destroy – the POPs part of the exported WEEE. As a result, the EA tightly control the recovery options available. The EA suggest incineration with energy recovery as a suitable recovery example.

Re-using WEEE POPs

Wiser Recycling WEEE Reuse

Refrigeration equipment ready for re-use at sister company, Wiser Recycling. Such WEEE is suitable for re-use as they do not contain POPs.

In their correspondence, the EA clearly stipulates that Operators cannot reuse equipment that contains POPs. Instead, all must be segregated and subject to the legal requirement to destroy the POPs.

In other words, any WEEE  item containing POPs – for example, a display device – cannot cease to be a waste and re-used. This stipulation still applies even if the electrical device is in working order.

If an organisation intends on re-using WEEE, then they must have access to a robust and reliable management system that identifies POPs containing materials.

For instance, this management system would need to identify and isolate electronic equipment that contains plastic components or printed circuit boards. Re-use is permitted for any non-POPs items.

Contact Wiser Environment

Moving forward, the EA states that it will continue to work with industry bodies. This comprises of the AATF Forum, ICER, the British Metals Recycling Association and others. Wiser Environment frequently communicates with many of these industry bodies as well as the EA itself. On behalf of WEEE operators, Wiser will happily put any questions they may have to the regulator. For more information contact Wiser Environment or call on 01480 462232.