Introduction: the WEEE world

WEEE is the acronym that corresponds to Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (in Italian indicated as RAEE, Rifiuti di Apparecchiature Elettriche ed Elettroniche), i.e. the set of appliances which, following failures, inactivity or obsolete technology, come to an end life and must be disposed of.

The WEEE recycling sector is essential for the development of the circular economy and European legislation has set specific objectives to which institutions and individuals involved in the entire supply chain must comply with..

According to the 2017 WEEE Report developed by the WEEE Coordination Center (the central body that deals with optimizing the collection and management of WEEE in Italy) on the Italian territory, more than 296 thousand tons of WEEE were collected, through the Collective Systems, and sent to treatment, with an increase of 4.66% compared to 2016 (positive metric from 2014). On average, each Italian citizen collected 4.89 kg of WEEE in 2016. However, Italy remains behind at the European level: according to Ecodom data (2017), countries such as France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Austria and Belgium record almost double per capita collections (8 kg), while Switzerland and Norway reach even 15 kg. In 2017, it is estimated that over 822,000 tons of electrical and electronic equipmentf were sold in Italy.

The WEEE return rate is an important indicator for monitoring the efforts made by each country in the collection, management and recovery of this particular waste: it is the ratio between the quantity of waste collected and the quantity of waste sold. Italy achieved a 36% return in 2017, against the 65% target set by the European Community.

Legislative Decree no.49 of 2014 also introduced an important innovation in the WEEE sector: in fact, a further differentiation is made explicit in the text, linked not only to the type of Grouping to which the individual appliance belongs, but also to the person who made them. used (private or professional).

The WEEE return rate is an important indicator for monitoring the efforts made by each country in the collection, management and recovery of this particular waste: it is the ratio between the quantity of waste collected and the quantity of waste sold. Italy achieved a 36% return in 2017, against the 65% target set by the European Community.

Legislative Decree no.49 of 2014 also introduced an important innovation in the WEEE sector: in fact, a further differentiation is made explicit in the text, linked not only to the type of Grouping to which the individual appliance belongs, but also to the person who made them. used (private or professional).

There are so two main kind of WEEE:

  • domestic: Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) used by a common household;
  • professional: EEE intended for administrative and economic activities, the supply of which is quantitatively important or whose characteristics are exclusively for professional use, or equipment that is not used at home.

The distinction between domestic and professional WEEE is not always clear: indeed, EEE foreseen for domestic use could become professional if purchased in big quantities by a business company.

The legislation also defines 5 household WEEE groupings for waste collection in typological groups:

  • R1 (Cold and Climate), e.g. refrigerators, freezers, air conditioning apparatus;
  • R2 (Great Whites), e.g. washing machines, dishwashers, microwave ovens, cheap hobs, etc;
  • R3 (TV and Monitor), e.g. old CRT cathode ray tube screens, modern LED, Plasma screens, and new technologies;
  • R4 (PED CE ITC and other, including lighting equipment and all other equipment outside the other groups), e.g. vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, irons, deep fryers, blenders, computers (central unit, mouse, keyboard), printers, fax machines, mobile phones, video recorders, radios, ceiling lights;
  • R5 (light sources), e.g. lamps that contain gases (such as incandescent ones), fluorescent neon tubes, energy saving lamps, mercury vapor, sodium, iodide, or vacuum lamps.

The collection of professional WEEE, on the other hand, takes place by categories of EEE falling within the scope of the Legislative Decree. There is also the abbreviation R13, common to both categories, to indicate the "reserve" status of the equipment.

How do the WEEE managing machineries work: the shredding phases

The WEEE treatment plants are managed by companies authorized to recover and recycle such waste, based on their specific characteristics. The activities of the plants also include storage, including the preliminary deposit and storage of waste, and / or the recycling treatment, the recovery and the valorisation of the materials.

The main machines involved in the treatment of WEEE are 5 and can be arranged in different configurations, depending on the specific processing needs.

The machines are connected to each other and coordinated and controlled by a special software that combines their functions. The capacity of a WEEE treatment plant can vary according to the size of the machines available: however, the average value is around 1,000 / 1,500 kg per hour.

From the WEEE treatment it is possible to recover various materials that make up the waste, which are then reinserted into the production cycles:

  • glass, particularly from televisions and monitors. It is crushed and destined for glass factories, ceramic factories or companies producing building materials (such as glass wool and insulation); 
  • iron (30%), steel and cast iron, mostly from large household appliances. They are intended for foundries; 
  • aluminum, present in almost all WEEE. It is intended for foundries; 
  • gold and silver, mostly found in electronics. They are intended for foundries; 
  • copper, bronze and brass, present in almost all WEEE. They are intended for foundries; 
  • lubricating oils from refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners. They are intended for the regeneration process; 
  • plastics (30%), present in all WEEE. They are regenerated or incinerated in waste-to-energy plants to produce energy; 
  • mercury and other dangerous substances, present in different light sources in varying quantities, depending on the type of lamp.

The WEEE shredding line consists of various consequential processes:

  1. conferment and storage: WEEE is stored in protected and isolated environments, thus avoiding the dispersion into the environment of the materials and harmful substances contained within them;
  2.  pre-treatment, securing, disassembly and recovery of components: among the waste destined for treatment there could be harmful materials (e.g. mercury switches and capacitors) and particularly wearing for the shredder blades, therefore they are removed manually by an operator or even, if necessary, disassembled; in addition, oils and gases are extracted and stored in specific containers;
  3. shredding: the reclaimed material is loaded onto the loading conveyor belt which unloads the material inside the loading hopper. The material is then shredded by a double shaft or four shaft shredder with variable powers on request. The material leaves the shredder with a size of about 30 mm and can go through further shredding and separation phases;
  4. selection of materials: the shredded material is extracted from a belt placed in correspondence with a magnetic separator which separates the ferrous material, unloading it on the side of the machine, where a container can be arranged. The resulting material then passes into a machine which, through induced currents, separates the non-ferrous metals discharging them at another point. In addition, there is a system for the extraction of dust that could pollute the separated material.

The shredding systems may vary depending on the type of WEEE treated: in particular, for refrigerators and freezers the shredding process takes place in controlled atmospheres, so as not to release harmful ozone gases into the environment; for all other WEEE, however, the absence of these gases allows the treatment to be carried out in non-hermetic environments.

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Environmental impact of treatment and regulations

The Legislative Decree establishes certain obligations for the companies authorized to treat WEEE. Among these, the most important is the annual communication, through the MUD - Single Environmental Declaration Model - of the data relating to the quantity of WEEE treated. Treatment plants must subscribe to a special list kept by the Coordination Center and notify the Center of the quantities of WEEE treated by 30 April of each year.

The Program Agreement on the Treatment of WEEE, signed nationally by the WEEE Coordination Center and ASSORAEE, ASSORECUPERI and ASSOFERMET, ensures adequate and homogeneous levels of treatment and company qualifications to which all bodies in the WEEE treatment sector must comply.

The entire WEEE treatment process guarantees the recovery of material up to approximately 90% of the entire product. However, there are materials that are not recyclable and are destined for waste-to-energy or landfill disposal: among these, polyurethane - used as insulation for refrigerators and freezers - is the most significant in terms of quantity, constituting in fact 80% of non-recyclable parts in a refrigerator.

 

The Legislative Decree establishes certain obligations for the companies authorized to treat WEEE. Among these, the most important is the annual communication, through the MUD - Single Environmental Declaration Model - of the data relating to the quantity of WEEE treated. Treatment plants must subscribe to a special list kept by the Coordination Center and notify the Center of the quantities of WEEE treated by 30 April of each year. The Program Agreement on the Treatment of WEEE, signed nationally by the WEEE Coordination Center and ASSORAEE, ASSORECUPERI and ASSOFERMET, ensures adequate and homogeneous levels of treatment and company qualifications to which all bodies in the WEEE treatment sector must comply. The entire WEEE treatment process guarantees the recovery of material up to approximately 90% of the entire product. However, there are materials that are not recyclable and are destined for waste-to-energy or landfill disposal: among these, polyurethane - used as insulation for refrigerators and freezers - is the most significant in terms of quantity, constituting in fact 80% of non-recyclable parts in a refrigerator.t

“The basic concept, which measures the environmental performance of treatment plants, is precisely to limit the use of non-recyclable materials by EEE producers to a minimum, thus increasing the percentage of new use after treatment. "

The WEEE CDC, i.e. the WEEE Coordination Centre, represents the reference point for all those involved in the WEEE supply chain, from the producer to the treatment company. Supervised by the Ministry of the Environment and Land and Sea Protection and the Ministry of Economic Development, it is managed and governed by the Collective Systems and operates with the ultimate aim of:

  • guarantee collection from waste disposal centers;
  • increase the collection of this type of waste by Italian municipalities;
  • achieve the new European collection objectives to safeguard, protect and improve the quality of the environment and human health.

The final challenge for the WEEE supply chain is to achieve a higher and higher rate of return and recycling of materials, aiming for zero environmental impact. The Coordination Center has always been active and committed to raising awareness among the Italian population, which is still not very receptive to the WEEE issue. In this regard, in collaboration with some of the most famous Italian DJs of the main radio broadcasters, CDC RAEE has launched an information campaign on this particular type of waste: the subject of the commercial is the so-called " one versus one " Decree, which provides for the free collection of the old EEE appliance when buying a new one, a practice in force since 2010 but often ignored by the final consumer.

Properly disposing and recycling WEEE brings benefits to the environment, reducing the risks of pollution and to human health, limiting the waste of essential materials for the production processes of various industries.

How CAN YOU choose a plant for the disposal of WEEE?

The choice of machineries for the disposal of WEEE must essentially take into account 3 factors:

  1. type of WEEE to be treated: the R classification of waste indicates the choice of the plant to be purchased. WEEE R1 (27% of the total) are treated in a particular way, as the plant must provide for the containment of harmful gases contained within them, while R2 (33%), R3 (19%) and R4 (20% ) can be processed simultaneously; finally, the R5 (just 1%) must be reclaimed, extracting the toxic materials inside them, such as mercury and lead;
  2. quantity of WEEE to be treated: it is decisive for the choice of the plant. The treatment capacity, expressed in kg / h, is indicated in the technical data sheets of the various machines that make up the system;
  3. purchase and maintenance costs: most of the manufacturers of WEEE treatment plants offer turnkey solutions, with clear and modular prices. Alternatively, it is possible to request customized quotes based on specific needs, obtaining a feasibility study, design, production and assembly, testing, shipping and installation. Do not underestimate the maintenance costs for the continuous efficiency of the system, in particular for maintaining the yield of the shredding blades.
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