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Clean points, what happens to your old appliances

Technological improvements and rising standards of living have led to greater use of electrical appliances, which we are replacing more and more frequently. Encouraging people to recover and recycle is becoming increasingly important, meaning that clean points - drop-off points for this type of waste - are extremely important.

As well as the five continents of the world that we learned about in geography, our planet has another, far more dangerous continent. This is a continent made up of plastic, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, in the north Pacific Ocean.

This area is said to occupy between 710,000 km² and 17,000,000 km² - depending on the plastic density criteria adopted - and covers an area as big as France, Spain and Germany combined with concentrated plastic rubbish.

It is not the only large-scale problem we have created on the planet with the waste we produce. The annual report issued by the Global e-waste Statistics Partnership reveals that in 2019, only 17.4% of electronic waste produced on the planet was recycled.

The importance of recycling electrical appliances

On the one hand, this is causing the loss and wastage of valuable materials such as gold, copper and iron, as well as having potential environmental risks due to the dangerous substances that many of these devices contain.

The main conclusions drawn from this report are that, if 17.4% of waste of electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) was recycled in 2019, that means that 82.6% was not recycled and has become part of the 53.6 million tons of global electronic waste we are generating every year.

It is essential we reverse this trend, otherwise, within a decade, by 2030 this figure will have reached 74 million tons of electronic waste. To stop this from happening, we are relying on our clean points.

Clean points: a vital service

Clean points have an essential role: to raise awareness and make it easy for people to recycle.

Clean points are the best place to dispose of types of waste that are not suitable for disposal by urban waste collection services. These drop-of points accept waste such as: batteries, used oil, toner cartridges, the remains of chemical products, X-rays, rubble, clothing, electrical appliances, fluorescent and low consumption light bulbs and, of course, electronic devices.

An electrical or electronic appliance (EEA) is one that needs batteries or electric current to function, a definition that includes the vast majority of the devices we use in our daily lives: household appliances such as refrigerators, washing machines and televisions, video game consoles, power tools, mobile phones, smartphones and tablets, etc. None of these can be disposed of by urban waste services, but you can take them to the point of sale where you buy the replacement or take them to a clean point drop-off area for due processing.

"Clean points have an essential role: to raise awareness and make it easy for people to recycle.”

The journey begins: how clean points make waste collection easier

To achieve recovery objectives, clean points must meet a number of requirements, some of which are the following:

Firstly, they must be easy to access. They must be easy to identify from the outside, be properly signposted, have generous opening hours and, most importantly in the case of heavy, bulky electrical appliances, they must have vehicle access to the area where these items are stored to be able to unload large appliances.

They must be well maintained and in good condition. Cleanliness and order are essential, and there must be different areas for different types of waste. Each container or storage area must be correctly identified and orderly. Each clean point must have a panel containing information.

Also, the clean point must always be staffed by a technician. These technicians have the important job of telling people how and where to dispose of their items correctly. Remember that in the case of electrical appliances, in addition to separating components such as batteries, white goods are generally separated from other types.

This is a free service. Not only is there no charge to citizens, but there is no limit on quantities or maximum volumes. As we have already said, clean points must accept all products not suitable for disposal in urban waste, regardless of nature or size.

Step two: how electrical appliances are processed

After taking them to the clean point, they are deposited and temporarily stored in a designated area that must comply with specific regulations.

In the case of electric and electronic equipment (WEEE), clean points must comply rigorously with Royal Decree 110/2015 that governs "the prevention and reduction of adverse impacts" of waste of electrical and electronic equipment “on human health and the environment”. This Royal Decree enacts Directive 2012/19/EU of the European Parliament and the Council, which focuses on two clear lines of action.

The first is to prevent waste generation and the second is the refurbishment of devices for reuse.

Recycling should be the penultimate option, and used only if the appliances are irreparable and cannot be put back on the market. That is why collection and transport conditions (the start of the reuse process) are so important to ensure suitability for reuse of at least some components and so that goods are protected from breakage, excess stacking, substance emissions and loss of materials and leaking oils and liquids.

Last step: towards recovery or recycling

As mentioned, Spanish and European Union regulations give priority to total or partial reuse, and only to recycling if this is not possible. Therefore, clean points must also make it possible to achieve this, before the goods make their final journey to the waste management plant.

In the first place, all waste, both outgoing and incoming, must be correctly weighed on a scale, logging the data in an electronic platform that centralises all the information and is currently managed by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

All waste must be duly identified and labelled, to enable suitable control, always providing citizens with proof of delivery, which is particularly important in the case of large electrical appliances.

Waste control and treatment of waste is essential, particularly in the case of electronics whose theft from clean points for sale as scrap metal can cause serious environmental problems. That is why it is so important to have appropriate security measures that protect all this waste while it is in temporary custody.

Appliances must also be handled correctly, avoiding knocks that may hinder the recycling of components and the danger that polluting particles that may harm the environment and our health are released. Potentially harmful waste should be deposited in a covered storage area with a waterproofed floor, separated from other types of waste such as bulky items, household goods and plastics.

According to The Global E-waste Monitor, carried out by the UN International Telecommunications Union based on Eurostat data, Spain is the fifth country in the European Union when it comes to producing electronic waste, but only comes in third for recovery. All this makes correct management extremely important.

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