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The Impact of the Digital Product Passport on WEEE Repair and Recycling Operations

Brought to you by Dimitra Papoutsoglou from ECORESET SA, Insights from the collaborative experience between a repair and preparation for reuse center and the material recovery unit of ECORESET SA in Greece 

The integration of a Digital Product Passport (DPP) into the operations of Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) repair and recycling facilities signifies a shift in waste management practices.  

Aligned with the EU Framework Directive 2008/98, the DPP is strategically being designed to promote among others the reuse of electrical and electronic devices at the end of their life, over recycling. This emphasis reflects a commitment to sustainable waste management practices. 

However, WEEE, recognized as one of the more complex waste streams globally, poses unique challenges. The composition comprises of highly heterogeneous mixtures of materials, including hazardous elements and critical raw materials. The average collection rate of WEEE in the European Union was 46.2 % (measured as the weight of WEEE collected relative to the average weight of electronic equipment put on the market in the three preceding years, i.e. 2018-2020). However, the preparation of reuse does not exceed 2% of the WEEE collected. 

Therefore, the solutions to be designed must target to strongly improve this figure, for products at the end-of-life stage and not yet before that. 

Operating a repair and preparation center for reuse is inherently demanding and requires a high level of expertise. Challenges include the difficulty of de-characterizing waste, the need to source spare parts competitively, securing product health and safety issues and reintroducing it to the market with warranty.  

WEEE treatment units receive daily dozens of tons of waste in various conditions. The collection, classification storage and decision-making processes for recycling or repair may be expensive and impact obligated producers, PROs, and recyclers. 

The digital product passport emerges as a valuable tool facilitating decision-making processes at different stages of operation. This tool addresses significant challenges faced by stakeholders in the WEEE management market.  

A critical feature of the electronic passport database is the provision of detailed information about materials and potential spare parts within WEEE. Access to such information simplifies several challenges encountered during the repair process. 

The DPP holds the potential to create a spare parts market directly from WEEE, reminiscent of successful practices well established in the automotive industry, some decades before, thus enhancing circularity indicators. 

Large and selected small household appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and others emerge as a stream with feasible application. The satisfactory homogeneity between different products, relatively slow technological development, and selection based on usability may result in the implementation of digital passports as the means to identify and source spare parts. 

Beyond the obvious improvement of circularity indicators, in the case of creating a second hand and a spare parts market directly from a waste stream, the implementation of the DPP promotes several social characteristics of repair and reuse. Within an increasing demand for electrical and electronic products globally, the prompt sourcing of spare parts promotes the repair of devices and makes products accessible to a larger part of the population worldwide.  

The CE-RISE project aligns with this change, engaging actors across the entire supply chain, paving the way for a more informed and sustainable approach to repair and recycling systems. And even though the road ahead is challenging and requires continuous efforts and strong synergies, it may lead to sustainability and circularity in the management e-waste.