Theft of electrical waste from collection facilities

WEEE Theft From DCFs Project: Final report. February 2019

This research identifies how much waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is stolen from designated collection facilities (DCFs) in the UK. It investigates which products are being targeted, and what councils have been doing about it.

The study follows up on an estimate that more than 90,000 tonnes of WEEE goes missing annually. Back in 2016, Valpak reported that a small but significant tonnage of compressors, mainly from fridges, was going missing each year. 

The report provides data to support the development of action plans, and recommends areas of further research. 

Method

The research analysed data from Wastedataflow and the Environment Agency. It also gathered information via surveys, interviews and correspondence with a number of organisations. These included selected UK councils, producer compliance schemes, treatment facilities, waste management operators, and the devolved nations’ environment agencies.

Key findings

  • Theft of WEEE from DCFs is, in fact, minor, impulsive and rarely part of any large-scale organised process. 
  • A combination of security investment, better on-site controls and more involvement of producer compliance schemes appear to have reduced WEEE theft significantly.
  • Where WEEE theft does happen, items most commonly taken from DCFs are flat screen TVs, non-ferrous metals and lead acid batteries.
  • However, more than 50,000 tonnes of WEEE a year appear to be reported as scrap metal; and a significant number of cooling equipment compressors are going missing before arriving at DCFs. 
  • Actual theft from DCFs is estimated at 11,500 tonnes of WEEE a year. This is substantially lower than Valpak’s 2016 estimate. Much of what they reported related to tonnage lost before being deposited at DCFs, or by being mixed with other non-WEEE streams. 
  • From an environmental point of view, the greatest concern is the illegal removal of compressors. 

Areas of further research

The conclusion is that, overwhelmingly, loss of WEEE from the system happens outside DCFs. Further research should therefore focus on:

  • the scale and impact of illegal activities outside DCFs; 
  • measures that could reduce the environmental impact of those activities and losses of WEEE;
  • ways to increase the proportion of WEEE being treated according to best practice.

Find out about applying for funding.

WEEE Theft From DCFs Project: Final report. February 2019

360 Environmental Ltd, 2019. 24 pages. Includes 7 tables, 11 figures and 5 council case studies.

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Cover for WEEE theft report