The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive became law in all parts of the European Union over 12 years ago, in 2003. It set ambitious targets for recycling many types of electronics and appliances and placed stringent restrictions on new appliances and equipment that could be manufactured or sold in the EU.
It was revised quite a few times over the years, most notably in 2006. 2009 and 2011. The most recent changes were adopted in 2011 and 12, but only came into force this year. The new targets state that a minimum of 45% of all electrical and electronic equipment entering the European market (including household and kitchen appliances) should be recycled. The EU as a whole is attempting to beat that figure substantially, with a soft target of 85% of electrical and electronic waste recycled by 2016.
This was to be made possible by the requirement that the manufacturers of these products take responsibility for recycling them. The manufacturing companies had to create an infrastructure to recycle WEEE waste on an unprecedented scale, and to make this infrastructure accessible for businesses and private households throughout Europe. Consumers were to be given the opportunity to recycle their appliances and equipment free of charge, but the possibility for the waste to be bought back from consumers for a portion of its salvage value was not ruled out.
In the UK, this was accomplished by creating DCFs (Designated Collection Facilities) and HWRCs (household waste recycling centres) where the WEEE is collected, and AATFs (approved authorised treatment facilities) to actually begin the recycling process.
Individual consumers are not specifically given any duties under the WEEE directive, but every retailer who sells electrical and electronic equipment must give their customers a way to recycle their old equipment for free when they replace an older item.
Currently, over 40% of household WEEE is recycled in the UK, so we have a ways to go if we are to meet the high bar set by the EU.