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  • 2022BondMRes

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The Carbon Footprint of WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) in the UK – a case study based on the UK’s largest WEEE producer compliance scheme

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

  • Matthew Bond
Publication date11/05/2022
Number of pages184
QualificationMasters by Research
Awarding Institution
Award date28/03/2022
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


500,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is collected and treated in the authorised WEEE system in the UK annually. Greenhouse gas emissions result from the transportation and treatment processes, but emissions reductions occur elsewhere in the economy when secondary materials, reused EEE and recovered electricity substitute virgin materials.
Here we investigate the carbon footprint of the authorised WEEE system in the UK, utilising a combined material flow analysis (MFA) and life cycle assessment (LCA). The potential for improvements in the carbon footprint are investigated through optimisation of logistics by solving a Vehicle Routing Problem with the objective of minimising carbon footprint. Detailed primary data was obtained from a producer compliance scheme and the collection and pre- treatment operators, yielding highly specific emissions and material flow data across these stages. Data covering the recycling, incineration and landfill stages was sourced from the Ecoinvent 3.7 database.
The LCA results show a net carbon footprint benefit for the collection and treatment across all WEEE streams. The average carbon footprint per tonne of WEEE was -2.01tCO2eq., consisting of 0.903tCO2eq. of gross emissions and -2.92tCO2eq. of avoided emissions. The gross emissions are mainly from recycling and energy-from-waste, and the avoided emissions from the substitution of 0.748t of virgin material with recycled material. Furthermore, optimisation of AATF allocation achieved a further improvement of 0.22tCO2eq. per tonne of WEEE by increasing use of AATFs with higher recovery rates.
Specific findings include the large range in total emissions when WEEE is sent to different pre- treatment plants, and the finding that energy-from-waste is less beneficial than landfill from a carbon footprint perspective.
Implications include informing decision making at the industry and policy level to improve the carbon footprint of the WEEE system and increasing public awareness of the benefit of correct WEEE disposal.