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Not a WEEE amount of waste

Alarmingly, WRAP estimates that around 600 million tonnes of products and materials enter the UK economy each year, with only around a paltry 115 million tonnes being recycled; despite the best efforts of conscientious contractors and ourselves at Plastic Surgeon, as the country’s leading repair specialist.

Speaking at a Green Alliance/CBI conference in London towards the middle of December, Dr Liz Goodwin, Chief Executive Officer at WRAP, said that by pursuing opportunities for reuse, the UK could reduce its reliance on raw materials – including rare earths, by as much as 20% by 2020. Which is a strategy we at Plastic Surgeon have long endorsed, our repair techniques having saved over 1,700,000 kilograms of waste going to landfill this year alone.

Dr Goodwin told delegates at the conference: “Rare earth metals account for just 1,600 tonnes of this flow, but they are found everywhere – from vehicles, TVs, computers and ceramics, fuels, energy generation, and pharmaceuticals. We are heavily dependent on these materials for so many everyday items, but recycling rates associated with these resources are generally very low, often below 1%.”

The doctor added: “Our research shows that in general, it’s the strategies that extend the life of goods or reduce the consumption of electronic and electrical goods that have the greatest impact. The biggest ‘quick win’ impacts can be attributed to four approaches – lean production, waste reduction, lifetime optimisation and ‘goods to services’, where the number of leased products is increased and the number of outright purchases are decreased.”

Goodwin also highlighted the opportunities presented by tackling the amount of WEEE in the UK: “We estimate that between now and 2020, in the UK, we’ll dispose of 12 million tonnes of WEEE. A quarter of this will comprise IT equipment, consumer electronics and display devices, which in turn, will contain around 63 tonnes of palladium, and 17 tonnes of iridium.  At current market prices, this amount of palladium would be worth £1bn, and the iridium, around £380m.”

Recovering these valuable metals at the end of products’ useful life is one option, but Goodwin pointed out that there are other strategies that would help make better use of existing resources, and which may, in turn, lead to new, financially-viable business models.

She alluded to new WRAP research that shows that almost a quarter of all WEEE taken to household recycling centres has a reuse value, which could deliver £200m gross revenue each year. “This alone could make 100 tonnes of rare earth elements – almost 10% of UK demand – available again,” she said. “More than a fifth of the WEEE could be immediately sold on, or repaired and refurbished for resale, bringing financial benefits to those involved. The end result would be that we’d be a step closer to the elusive closed loop, green economy model.”

While Plastic Surgeon is probably best known to its customer base for making good damage to such building substrates as masonry, timber, PVC and laminates, the company is also regularly called upon to save ‘white goods’ and other electrically powered items whose casings have been scratched and dented.

Fridges and freezers in retail outlets as well as domestic situations regularly feature on our Finishers’ work sheets, while televisions, laptops and other electronic devices have all received attention. For although there is undoubtedly a ‘throw away’ attitude to technology these days, Plastic Surgeon’s ability to repair items in-situ is often a deciding factor where replacing built-in components is too disruptive to be contemplated.

Dr Goodwin concluded: “More than a fifth of the items could be immediately sold to new owners, or sold after repair and refurbishment.”  Saving even more waste from landfill – a concept that Plastic Surgeon has known for a long time; repair, don’t replace.

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