1 - What are EEE?

By Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) is meant “Any equipment which is dependent on electric currents or elec­tromagnetic fields in order to work properly and equipment for the generation, transfer and measurement of such currents and fields and designed for use with a voltage rating not exceeding 1000 volts for alternating current and 1500 volts for direct current”.

EEE can be for Domestic or Professional use and is governed by Legislative Decree 49/2014 which incorporates the contents of Directive 2012/19/EU.

Household EEE are any type of equipment intended for use by private households, but also that which can be used both by private and professional users. Such interpretation results from the fact that Legislative Decree 49/2014 provides that “Waste from EEE which may be used by private households and users other than private households shall in any case be considered to be WEEE from private households …”. It follows that any ‘dual use’ EEE, i.e. equipment that in not having specific functions or characteristics may be used both by a final consumer and a B2B customer, must always be considered as Household EEE.

Professional EEE are exclusively any equipment designed with functions and characteristics such that it is different from that intended for end consumers, and thus only usable by professionals or businesses. A partial exception to this rule is that concerning the lighting sector, since according to the Ministerial Decree of 12 May 2009, luminaires and light sources must always be considered as Household EEE.

Some examples of Professional EEE are: radiography equipment, ultrasound systems and any professional medical devices, refrigerated counters, ATM machines, automatic food and drink vending equipment, industrial washing machines.

EWC Codes play an important role since their classification guarantees the correct disposal and treatment of the different types of waste. In fact, each type of WEEE corresponds to a unique EWC Code that indicates its classification, hazardousness and category to which it belongs. In order to ensure the proper treatment and recycling, WEEE is identified as follows:

16 02 14 Non-hazardous electrical components – IT equipment (computers, faxes, printers, scanners, photocopiers, bench scales, cash registers, etc.), landlines and mobile phones, tablets, answering machines and telephone exchanges, air conditioning systems (split and fan coils), photovoltaic and solar panels;

16 02 16 Non-hazardous electrical components – electronic boards, rams, CPUs, network cards, motherboards, sound cards, PC, CD, DVD, VHS cards, etc.;

17 04 01 Electrical and electronic components containing copper, bronze, brass;

17 04 02 Electrical and electronic components containing aluminium;

17 04 11 Dielectric, semi-electric and metal coated fibre-optic cable;

20 01 21* fluorescent tubes and other mercury-containing wastes;

20 01 23* discarded equipment containing chlorofluorocarbons;

20 01 35* discarded electrical and electronic equipment, other than that falling within Codes 20 01 21 and 20 01 23, containing hazardous components;

*20 01 36 discarded electrical and electronic equipment, other than that falling within Codes 20 01 21, 20 01 23 and 20 01 35.

Photovoltaic modules are EEE and fall within the scope of Legislative Decree 49/2014.

Legislative Decree 49/2014 provides that modules installed in systems with power below 10 kW are to be considered as Household EEE, while those with power above 10 kW as Professional EEE.

From a legislative viewpoint, an Electrical or Electronic Equipment becomes waste when the holder decides to discard it.

Recycling is required by the legislation in force for three reasons:

1. limit the use of landfills and therefore reduce the waste sent to them;
2. recover the material without the need to resort to extractions of virgin raw materials;
3. prevent the dispersal of substances harmful to humans and the environment.

In order to allow recycling, a separate collection and proper treatment are required.

WEEE may contain substances hazardous to human health and the environment. Examples of these are: cadmium, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). But WEEE also contain considerable quantities of materials (copper, iron, aluminium, plastic, silicon, but also gold, silver, rare earths, etc.) which – thanks to recycling – can be recovered and re-used creating new resources and products.

Based on estimates, in Italian households there are over 200 million of electrical or electronic products that are no longer functional or used, on average 8 per family.

Overall, about 54 million tons of WEEE are generated worldwide each year (equal to 7.3 kg per inhabitant) of which only 10 million are properly collected and treated.

It is estimated that worldwide over 44 million tons of WEEE escape control and proper recycling every year. They end up in landfills, sold and illegally disposed of, burned in the open air or treated below the expected standards. WEEE which escape the control of the streams intended for recycling, also called ‘hidden flows’ or ‘parallel flows’, is diverted and dispersed into illegal channels, without any guarantee from the environmental point of view.

Directive 2012/19/EC has introduced increasingly new minimum collection targets for the WEEE stream. In fact, starting from 1 January 2019, the collection rate  to be achieved is set at 65% of the average quantities placed on the market in the previous three years or, alternatively, 85% of the weight of WEEE domestically produced in the reference year. These legislative requirements have the objective of promoting the recovery of Secondary Raw Materials deriving from the recovery and recycling of WEEE, which can thus be introduced into new production cycles without the need for new extractions from the ground.

Recycling begins when WEEE arrives at specialised plants for the treatment of such waste. Since WEEE can contain hazardous substances, there is a first de-pollution phase, where – according to specific procedures – waste is separated from the harmful elements contained in it. This phase is followed by the actual treatment, where shredding, crushing and separation operations take place for the recovery and valorisation of the materials, obtaining Secondary Raw Materials that can be re-used and reintroduced into new production cycles.

The ‘One-for-One’ take-back service (envisaged by Ministerial Decree No. 65 of 2010) ensures consumers the free collection by Distributors of a household WEEE when purchasing a new equivalent product. This free service is obligatory for all companies who sell EEE to end consumers (both in stores and online) and it applies to all types of WEEE.

The ‘One-for-Zero’ take-back service (envisaged by Ministerial Decree No. 121 of 2016) ensures consumers the possibility to deliver, free of charge, a very small household WEEE (i.e. with no external dimension greater than 25 cm) to retail shops with sales areas relating to EEE of at least 400 m2, even when a new product is not purchased.

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