The best features in recycling
As the public becomes more aware of the need to recycle the myriad of electronic devices accumulated in day-to-day living, so the business world becomes more aware of the need to offer services that help us. And leading the way
is Currys, as Will Simpson learns
The 2007 WEEE Directive changed much in the electrical and white goods sector. It forced producers to think how they could make their products more recyclable, it led local authorities to clamp down on dumping of unwanted goods and it also forced retailers to think afresh about how they could play their part in this new challenge.
A number introduced take-back systems, but of the main retailers it’s Currys, part of the larger Dixons group, that has taken the lead, setting up a scheme that is free to the customer and makes use of reverse logistics.
“When the new directive came in, we wanted to differentiate ourselves from other retailers”, explains Stewart Potts, Dixons’ Head of Recycling and Reuse. “Quite frankly, being the largest electrical retailer in the UK, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to do something that was better for our customers and, ultimately, better for the environment.” And this, despite the fact that the customers themselves hadn’t exerted any pressure on the company; Potts hypothesises this may be because “there wasn’t a full understanding at that time of exactly what it meant”.
Since then, though, many customers have taken full advantage of Currys’ offering. The scheme launched in June 2007 and works on a simple basis. Customers can physically return their WEEE to any of the 560 Currys stores in the UK, regardless of where it was originally purchased. Alternatively, if they are having a new electrical product home delivered, they can arrange to have the product it is replacing collected at the same time. The scheme covers not just Currys, but also PC World, Dixons.co.uk and all the constituent parts of the Dixons group in Europe.
After collection, the various pieces of WEEE get transported to Dixons’ recycling partner, Environcom, and its depot in Grantham, just 18 miles from the main Currys facility in Newark. Potts explains: “They take the WEEE off and visually inspect if it looks like it can be reused – yes or no. If not, it goes straight for recycling. If they think it can be then they’ll do a full PAT [Portable Appliance Testing] test on it to make sure it’s electrically sound. They’ll then do a full working test on it. They have a massive reuse facility there and obviously once the unit is deemed to be safe and working they grade it. It then goes back out to the different parts of the market that want different graded material.” Potts estimates that between 15-20 per cent of the WEEE that Currys collects gets reused.
The rest then gets broken down, separated, shredded and recycled by Environcom, which has the capacity to cope with all types of WEEE, from fridges and freezers to computers and smaller products.
Though it’s unfortunate so much is shredded and recycled rather than disassembled and reused, Potts is adamant that there’s no catch to the scheme, which is self funding. “Roughly speaking, it’s cost neutral and we can achieve that because we are the biggest in the market. So there are efficiencies there, and also with our vehicle fleet. We have re-engineered our entire system so when a lorry full of new goods goes out, a lorry full of recycled comes back to just down the road from where it would be parked up for the night anyway.
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