Long life to household appliances


The collection and the treatment of Weee give recycling opportunities of second raw materials, projects of social recovery and of artistic research. Italy can boast excellence peaks but the way to perfect the process is still long and passes through Europe.

Marika Comotti

In Italy the management of Weee (Waste electrical and electronic equipment) might increasingly turn out to be the boost able to concentrate in a single action the economic, social and – also – artistic development, under a common approach that is rooted in the “Green Economy”. But to fly high it is necessary to improve the coordination of the various involved players on the territory – citizens included – and to lighten the bureaucratic burden. The picture of lights and shadows between excellence peaks and operating limits in the management process is traced by the data about the trend of the collection and of the recycling of Weee but, especially, the experiences and the projects in course to transform old equipment and household appliances at the end of their service life into resources not to be wasted. The coming into force in Italy of the new directive of the European Union in 2014 and the development of the best practises acknowledged abroad as models to be imitated, represent, concerning this, essential stages for the evolution of the sector. To full benefit of industry and environment.

Decreasing Weee
On European scale Italy does not shine for the results reached in the Weee collection. According to the yearly report by Weee Forum, the European association that groups 39 bodies and national institutions that take care of the collection and recovery of Weee, in 2011 the collected wastes were equal to 260,090 kg. Slightly more than 4 kg per inhabitant, equalling Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Slovenia and surpassing only Spain (3 kg), Latvia (2) and Romania (1). On the top stand out Norway (30 kg), Denmark (14), Sweden and Switzerland (17). We recycle less because– upstream – we buy less. But not only. Frightening are the three Weee out of four that actually are not intercepted by the institutional system and are incorporated by the illegal flows of collection and treatment, as confirmed by a survey carried out for Ecodom (the Italian consortium for the collection and the recycling of the household appliances) by the United Nation University in collaboration with Milan Polytechnics and Ipsos, for about 700,000 t year. With serious risks for the environment and heavy social repercussions. Ecodom provides the results that define the Italian scenario of Weee and that, indirectly, estimate also the weight of the economic crisis in course on the sector of electrical and electronic equipment. According to the 2012 Sustainability Report, last year the Consortium collected and treated about 72,000 t of Weee (about 30% of all Weee managed in Italy), with a drop by 17% in comparison with the previous year, due both to the decrease of the sale volumes of the new facilities and to the worsening of the illegal phenomenon of collection, transport and treatment of Weee containing valuable raw materials. More in detail, Ecodom treated in all Italy 35,931 t of refrigerators, freezers and conditioners (R1 grouping), 35,690 t of washing machines, dishwashers, boilers, ovens, hoods (R2 grouping) and 332 t of small appliances such as fans and hairdryers, consumer electronics and computers (R4 grouping). Lombardy is the most virtuous Region (12,304 t); followed by Veneto (7,393 t), Sicily (6,954) and Emilia Romagna (6.840). Valle d’Aosta (328), Basilicata (286) and Molise (63) rank in the last positions. Decreasing collection confirmed also by the 2012 Report of the Weee Coordination Centre (body financed and managed by producers, which coordinates and rules the activities entrusted to collective systems – for instance no-profit consortia or companies): the total of the Weee belonging to the five groups in 2012 dropped by 8.51% compared to the previous year (-6.62% for R1 and -12.74% for R2).


The Weee recycling gives birth to new employment opportunities, educational initiatives for the correct collection and treatment of wastes and, besides, artistic research routes. In these three ambits the Ecolight consortium, established in 2004, is active and proactive part in its activity of management of worn-out Weee, batteries, accumulators and photovoltaic modules. The consortium is in the forefront in the “Weee in jail” project, started in 2005 in the ambit of the Community initiative Equal “Pegaso” financed by Emilia-Romagna Region with the European Social Fund. Target, to provide opportunities of employment and of social reintegration to the prisoners of the county penitentiaries of Bologna, Forlì and Ferrara, organizing three laboratories for the treatment of Weee. With Hera Group and with the Spanish Ecolum foundation (recycling of Weee from lighting appliances), Ecolight operates also in the ambit of “Identis Weee” (Identification Determination Traceability Integrated System for Weee), the experimental European project for the recycling of Weee, from the correct disposal to the recovery of second raw materials. Two strong points, the development and the testing of innovative and intelligent containers for the Weee collection with recognition of users and appliances and for the complete waste traceability (street dumpsters for household Weee, containers for big distributors/resellers and service centres, containers for proximity collections in streets, squares and much frequented locations, containers inside stores for small Weee) and the education of citizens and institutions to the separate collection of Weee, even through awarding mechanisms. In four months of experimentation, from May to August, in the test area of Bologna, Ferrara and Ravenna they collected 4 t of Weee. The WEEEparking, one of the four developed prototypes, is a big-size dumpster (7×2.5 m) fully automated for small household appliances (max. sizes 35×55 cm) and other electronic appliances like TV sets (up to 78×80 cm), equipped with a system able to signal automatically the reached container filling. The user gains access with the health card, the Hera card of ecologic stations or the barcode of Hera bill; once registered, it selects the type of waste to be conveyed and the dumpster automatically opens the door for the conveyance. “There is also space for art. According to this vision, more than three years ago the Recycling Museum took shape, “a virtual showcase open to all to demonstrate not only that our wastes can turn into art objects but also that recycling, as good practice, can be considered an expression of art”.


To the benefit of the environment
The recycling of Weee brings other important advantages for industry and environment. Ecodom recovered 62,000 tons of second raw materials, which were reintroduced into production processes: iron ranks first (over 44,000 t), plastic comes second (7,000 t), followed by copper (2,000 t) and aluminium (1,700 t). The treatment process of Weee has also avoided the emission of 790,838 t of CO2 into the atmosphere, while the reuse of raw materials (iron, aluminium, copper and plastic) has permitted an energy saving of around 272,215 Giga Joule, besides having intercepted and correctly disposed a significant quantity of gases that damage the ozone layer.

Fewer wastes, more recycling
Within February 14th the member States of the European Union are requested to adapt their national legislations to the contents of the 2012/19/EU directive concerning waste electrical and electronic equipment. The new text, which replaces the 2002/96/EC directive, aims at strengthening the common action of prevention of Weee production and at quickening the steps towards the reuse and recycling of second raw materials, improving the environmental sustainability performances of producers, distributors, consumers and operators in the sector of the collection and treatment of electrical and electronic wastes, limiting treatments with high environmental impact and illegal exports. The application of the directive (in two steps, in a transition period until August 14th 2018 and since 15th August 2018 onwards). In the transition phase the directive aims at reaching 80% of collection and 75% of recycling of the electrical and electronic equipment marketed in Europe; at full rate, those percentages will rise to 85% for the collection and 80% for recycling. Also the method for calculating the waste volume changes as it is no more expressed in kilos per inhabitant but according to a minimum collection rate, calculated on the basis of the total weight of Weee collected in a determinate year and expressed as percentage of the average weight of the facilities introduced on the market of the concerned member State in the three previous years: starting from 2016 the directive will identify a minimum percentage corresponding to 45%, with a growth up to 65% since 2019 or, as alternative, to 85% of the weight of Weee produced on the national territory. The targets of the new directive mainly include the upstream reduction of the Weee production. As article 4 provides for, member States encourage the cooperation between producers and operators of recycling plants and an innovative approach to the “ecologic design” transferring the matters of the collection and of the recovery of worn-out equipment to the phase of product devising and machining (also referring to the implementation measures of the “Ecodesign” 2009/125/EC directive). The introduction of the producer’s responsibility encourages the design and the production of equipment according to criteria facilitating the repair, eventual conformity to the technical progress, reuse, disassembly and recycling. The information to consumers is the other great pillar. According to the art. 14, member States can exact that the producer is obliged to indicate the costs of the collection, of the treatment and of the eco-compatible disposal to the buyers of new products; consumers are in their turn informed about the disposal and actively involved in the good practices of reuse and recycling of equipment thanks to the availability of collection systems, also public, and of suitable structures for the free-of-charge return of Weee.


Ecodom, Italian Consortium for the collection and recycling of household appliances, is the national collective system that manages the no-profit transports and treatment of worn-out household appliances (Weee-Waste electrical and electronic equipment). Established in 2004 on a voluntary basis by the primary producers of big household appliances, woods and boilers operating on the Italian market, Ecodom counts 34 companies joined in a consortium and the 61% percentage approximately in the market of big appliances. In particular, Ecodom takes care of managing Weee coming from households belonging to the R1 grouping (refrigerators, conditioners), R2 (washing machines, dishwashers, hoods, ovens, boilers) and R4 (small household appliances, consumer electronics, computer instruments, lighting appliances) and carries out, exclusively upon demand of the Consortium members, the service of professional Weee treatment. In 2012 it managed 30.2%, in terms of weight, of all Weee collected in Italy (56% refrigerators and conditioners, 62% washing machines, dishwashers, hoods, ovens, boilers, 1% small appliances, consumer electronics, computer systems, lighting appliances). HA parts&components asked some questions to Giorgio Arienti, general manager of Ecodom.

What is the state-of-the-art of the Weee collection in Italy, in view of the expiry term imposed by the European directive?
We are facing some problems. The first is cultural and is connected with the scarce bent of Italian citizens for the separate collection of electrical and electronic appliances, especially of small ones. The second concerns the collection modalities of this waste typology, which in some areas of the Country are not adequate: there are no ecologic isles or they are open only few days a week, or moreover stores do no comply with the “one against one” collection (that’s to say the free of charge collection of Weee when the consumer buys an equivalent appliance). The excessively complicated regulation that discourages instead of encouraging virtuous behaviours is the third problem. We have just to consider that in the case of stores that perform the “one against one” collection, the customer is compelled to release its personal details that the seller will introduce in an apposite register, with useless bureaucratic burden. The fourth and last problem is the dispersion of Weee that, even if collected separately, are not always treated correctly. Washing machines, for instance, often join cars and then they are simply pressed without removing dangerous components.

How can we intervene?
In view of February 2014 we must seize the opportunity of approving a less complicated law, favouring virtuous behaviours, with a clear identification of the responsibilities and of the funding modalities of collection and treatment activities of Weee. If we miss this train, we risk of wasting an important opportunity. According to the European Union, within 2019 we should pass from 4 kg per inhabitant of Weee currently collected every year to 12 kg, and without an adequate regulation we will not succeed in it. It is however worth underlining that, from the operational point of view, we are much more ahead than from the regulatory one: in 5 years we have more than doubled the collection of Weee and we rely on a system that, in terms of treatment quality and service widespread diffusion, is an excellence on a world scale, studied abroad as reference model. In spite of the above mentioned problems, Italy has implemented an effective and efficient system, able to manage much bigger waste quantities than current ones: for this reason it is necessary to increase the separate collection through a greater involvement of citizens.

What are the reuse and recycling destinations taken by Weee deriving from household appliances in Italy at present?
The prevailing flow concerns the recovery of second raw materials like aluminium, iron, plastic and copper. Unlike other ambits, such as IT, in the case of big white goods the reuse, even only partial, of appliances is very rare because Italians tend to replace household appliances only when they are very old, under critical conditions, kept at home or in the cellar for years before throwing them away. Also in ecologic isles these appliances are not accurately stocked and handled and therefore they are further damaged. To start a recovery route of big white goods we should intercept the most recent appliances in a better state of preservation, a step made possible only by the good function of the “one against one” collection service in stores and the careful handling of appliances. But we would anyway deal with very small numbers.

Is this consideration true also for components?
Yes, they are often obsolete and out-of-date from the technological point of view, not suitable for being used in current production lines. Besides, they are inadequate in terms of energy saving or of technology, as in the case of electronic cards. It is on the contrary prevailing the extraction and the reuse of second raw materials in the various destinations, by productive sectors or geographical areas, wherever price is more convenient according to the market trends.


The creation of the Ecologic Village inside the former Burgo paper mill of historical value for the territory, the purchase of Villa Rizzoli (which will house in the future a didactic centre for schools and a divulgation pole for citizens), and the installation of an 1 MW photovoltaic plant. They are the first three steps taken by Dismeco in Marzabotto (BO), specialized in the Weee treatment, leader of a team of local companies committed to an industrial project standing out for strong environmental sustainability and matching the maximum material recovery, the energy from renewable sources and a strong social approach. For the treatment of big appliances, Dismeco makes use of an innovative line of handling and pre-selection featuring strong automation, unique in the world, fully self-engineered, which allows extracting the significant components of wastes before shredding, approach pursued, on the contrary, by all other existing plants. This allows obtaining raw materials of extreme homogeneity as well as being able to proceed to rigorous and dedicated selections for each type of material (plastics, glass etcetera). Washing machines hold a primary role in the activity of the Bologna company; every day Dismeco treats about 500 of them, reaching the astonishing 98% percentage of material recycling. Starting from the recovery of the glass of portholes, for instance, in collaboration with Modena University, they have undertaken positive experimental operating routes focused on the vitrification of ceramic tiles, in collaboration with the Polis company in Modena, or on healthcare goods. “The porthole, produced with highly transparent glass and characterized by the winking shape, fruit of attentive design, is the first motivating element for the purchase of a washing machine – explains Claudio Tedeschi, Dismeco managing director-. Once understood the excellent quality of these elements, we have posed the problem of how reusing the second raw material, hence the course shared with Polis”. The advantages are manifold. “For the company manufacturing tiles this approach inspired by the “Green Economy”, will be a distinguishing factor on its market, with undeniable driving effect on the rest of the production”. The research developed by Dismeco does not stop here: with Osram in Munich of Bavaria it collaborates at the project of extraction of rare earths from the fluorescent powders of neon lamps; in collaboration with the Swedish Goteborg University and a pool of foreign companies it works on the European project “Relight Project” for the technological implementation of the current treatment machinery of fluorescent lamps in order to increment the purification from mercury of the resulting materials. A lot of research and huge funds, but at the end troubles are not missing. “The market is scarcely receptive in general for recovered materials. Producers wonder why they should use recycled materials instead of virgin ones, much fewer problems in production and this is mainly a cultural aspect”. The economic effort for the entrepreneurial development has been fully supported by private investments. “Working and investing as private realities is not easy in Emilia Romagna – adds Tedeschi – the waste management is strictly “institutional”. Subsidiary companies are not deemed an important resource and neither the empathy that the private industrial sector lives with its own territory”. The strong social and territorial rooting, exemplified also by the participation in the project “Weee in jail”, are part of the DNA of Dismeco. “We treat only 10% of Weee produced in Emilia Romagna, if we could reach just 20% we could widen our activity and create lots of workplaces. We have the potentialities, last year we treated a Weee quantity that covers only 20-30% of our productive potentialities”. Can the new EU directive really influence the scenario? Tedeschi is optimistic. “It goes towards the right direction, it gives room to the concept of territorial proximity in the collection and treatment of Weee, which for us is a principle that cannot be set aside. Out of 60,000 t of Weee calculated on sales, yearly in Emilia Romagna, only 45% are intercepted by the system and the remaining part is dispersed in often illegal ways; a management according to proximity principles could hinder the phenomenon”. Not only. “The directive establishes that it is necessary to award the plants that aim at the excellence in the recovery of second raw materials and the application of this concept might be a further deterrent against the improper treatment of Weee”.