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New WEEE reuse specification aims to reduce the number of illegal exports

New WEEE reuse specification aims to reduce the number of illegal exports

In March 2011, a new publicly available standard was established to reduce the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) ending up either in landfill or being incinerated.

The first such standard in the European Union, PAS 141 provides requirements for those involved in reuse to help minimise the impact of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) on the environment and assure consumers that any reused electrical and electronic equipment (REEE) is fit for purpose, both in terms of safety and function.

To assist reuse organisations, PAS 141 sets out requirements on how to manage the process of preparing used electrical and electronic equipment (UEEE) and WEEE. As well as ensuring that any equipment is inspected and tested according to the requirements, reuse organisations are required to track each piece of equipment through the process of preparing for reuse and to keep records of all tests performed. Not only does this apply to reuse in the UK, it also applies to any equipment exported.

The idea behind PAS 141 is that consumers who may have been deterred from purchasing REEE due to safety and quality reasons can be receive assurance from the reuse organisation that products prepared for reuse using PAS 141 are functional, free of protected data and backed by warranty.

As well as contributing to an increased number of 'green' jobs within the sector, it is hoped that the standard will help regulatory bodies differentiate between 'bona fide' exports – or tested safe reuse equipment – and illegal exports of waste.

This, according Mike Low, BSI's director of standards, will subsequently assist in deterring the export of equipment wrongly described as being fit for reuse to developing countries. This approach has led to the dumping of large amounts of non working and difficult to dispose of WEEE, presenting these countries with the associated problems of dealing with the hazardous elements of WEEE.

"As the need to protect our environment increases, PAS 141 will help make this possible by ensuring the reuse of EEE is safe and functional," Low commented. "The need for PAS 141 has been demonstrated by the significant interest and support it has received from industry and government departments in the UK, as well as from the attention it has gained from other governments and worldwide organisations."

The idea for the standard came about when a potential customer of IT asset recovery firm RDC wanted to place refurbished computers into a school near one of its call centres in India. Gary Griffiths, head of sustainability at RDC and lead technical author for PAS 141, said: "The Indian government was extremely wary of letting the equipment into the country because of the risk of having faulty equipment dumped on them. Our client asked us to come up with a letter signed by an electrical engineer to prove that the goods had been fully refurbished. After doing so, we realised that a standard needed to be put in place so that companies wishing to receive reuse could do so with ease and peace of mind."

Griffiths continued: "We decided to establish a best practise guide to differentiate ourselves from some of the less ethical and responsible operators who were exporting waste illegally under the guise of it being for reuse. At the same time, we wanted to be able to sell to people in the UK with the reassurance of it being safe and fit for purpose. We set up a working group as part of the now defunct WEEE Advisory Body with people from the business sector, people involved in reuse/recycling, manufacturers and academia. Over several months, we developed an outline framework which we thought could be developed as a standard. We then passed this on to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which handed it over to the British Standards Institute (BSI) to develop as a publicly available specification."

The United Kingdom Accreditation Service is currently in the process of approving and accrediting the first certification scheme for PAS 141 with Oakdene Hollins, a research and consulting company promoting sustainable waste management. Once a firm has been assessed by Oakdene Hollins and certified to PAS 141, it can apply to the scheme authority, Valpak, for copies of the labels. The PAS 141 logo, according to Griffiths, is still awaiting approval and will be unveiled at a launch event in June this year.

Before the PAS 141 label can be affixed to a product, a number of visual, electrical safety and functional tests have to be passed. All data has to be wiped and records have to be kept to specify that the equipment is not only safe, but working as the manufacturer originally intended.

"If a company is certified, the logo can be added and the product is therefore certified as fit for export," noted Griffiths. "Not only can the consumer can be confident that the product has been tested and is safe and working, but so too can the environment agencies operating containers at ports, freeing up their time to focus on illegal waste instead."

Commenting on why companies should adhere to the standard, Griffiths noted: "In the past, many manufacturers were wary of reuse because of the impact on their brand name and the investment in their reputation. In recent years, however, they've come to realise that, much like the second hand car trade, it's better to be in control of new Directives to ensure that minimum quality standards are met – and even exceeded. A lot of companies have got behind PAS 141 as a means of raising their name and reputation and the majority we've spoken to are broadly in favour of it as a concept and practise."

As well as support from BIS, PAS 141 has received backing from the environment agencies and the WEEE industry itself. "The standard is a first for the UK, but it's also one of the first of its kind in the world," Griffiths concluded. "We've had a lot of interest from the US, the United Nations and even the Far East. You can expect to see the first products labelled as PAS 141 coming out through reuse channels in the next few months."

PAS 8910 standard will address sustainable design
Currently still under development by BSI, the PAS 8910 standard regarding sustainable design is aimed at organisations of all sizes, sectors and types. It came to fruition following discussions with the Design Council and BIS on the need for design engineers to consider sustainability during the product development process.

The recommendations contained within PAS 8910 are aimed at providing designers and their clients with a common understanding of how design can better contribute to the achievement of sustainability in products, services
or visual design communication output, and enable them to take action accordingly.
The standard is expected to be published in Q4 this year.

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Laura Hopperton

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