Navigating in-store take-back

For electrical retailers there are certain rules around Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. Now the Distributor Take-Back Scheme has ended, there are things you need to know about putting new systems in place. Matt Luntley, Commercial Account Manager at Valpak, explains…

We are all familiar with that 90s CD player buried at the back of the cupboard, or the obsolete mobile phone shoved in a drawer. Until now, the only way to get rid of them would be to take them to the recycling centre or – where systems allow – place them into the household recycling.

However, on 1 January, the system changed; for the first time, many electrical retailers will have to offer product take-back in store.

The requirement has been in place since the introduction of the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Regulations in 2006 but, for the last 13 years, many retailers signed up to the Distributor Take-Back Scheme (DTS), which funded local councils to collect WEEE on their behalf. In total, 1,244 retailers were signed up to the scheme, which was managed by Valpak.

The DTS has, however, come to an end and the changes now in place affect more than 600 businesses. These Band A and B retailers sell more than £100,000 in e-sales, and have at least one physical store. Over 600 companies in Band C – which sell up to £100,000 of electrical products or operate solely online – will need to have systems in place by 2022. Non-compliance will result in a minimum fine of £5,000, rising to an unlimited amount if the case reaches Crown Court.

Take-back is organised on a like-by-like basis. So, for example, if a store sells a DVD player, it must also accept an old VHS system. Stores with sales space over 400 square metres must also take-back very small WEEE (less than 25cm long), without a sale taking place.

The challenging nature of 2020 has meant that many retailers still do not have robust plans in place. Valpak has been liaising with the enforcer, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, to clarify the finer details. As well as providing information for members through webinars and newsletters, it is training retail staff.

Feedback shows that training is one of the greatest challenges – making sure that the entire workforce is up to speed and responding consistently is a huge administrative task. Space is also an issue, particularly for in-town stores. But, while many retailers might prefer only to organise collection from their larger, out-of-town stores, this does not meet the requirements of the legislation.

Deciding on a strategy will depend on individual circumstances. Back-hauling items to a distribution centre is the cheapest option, but it also involves a high level of administration. Conversely, managing returns at individual stores reduces paperwork, but results in more costly logistics and a greater level of training for all staff. Requirements also vary between the devolved nations of the UK.

Paperwork needs to be robust and show real duty of care – who is collecting waste products, where are they going, and are all the partners involved able to show due diligence? Many retailers are choosing to barcode individual items, while others will count manually but, again, this throws up questions around which members of staff will handle waste products, and levels of training required.

Where possible, it helps to build-in flexibility. For example, Valpak is trying to ease the burden on obligated businesses by providing collections from stores. There is no one-fits-all solution so, as well as supplying its own collapsible pallet box, the company also collects palletised products. Collections can be scheduled, or as and when needed.

One of the greatest issues is lack of clarity around consumer participation. The legislation includes a need for retailers to communicate a range of information, but giving cost estimates is difficult until consumer participation is understood

If all this sounds onerous and costly, it is important to remember why it matters. For the last three years, the UK has failed to meet its WEEE recycling target. Waste electricals are hazardous and pose a real threat to the environment when not recycled. Equally, the materials used to make these products are, at best, finite or, in many cases, rare resources.

Navigating the permits and paperwork needed for the new system may seem daunting, but help is available. Valpak-commissioned research shows that other EU countries have had success with in-store take-back schemes so, making a potential extra 5,000 drop-off points available, it is hoped that the public will be encouraged to dispose of redundant products.