New onus on producers in electrical waste Directive

Manufacturers or importers of electrical and electronic goods would have sole responsibility for ensuring the recovery of end-of-life equipment, according to the first draft of a proposed EC Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). They would also be responsible for collection of commercial WEEE, and would have to be "encouraged" by Member States to set up take-back schemes for household WEEE.

Initial proposals from the Commission's Environment Directorate, DGXI, for a Directive on take-back of electronic products were reported last autumn when a working paper was circulated to Member States and interested parties (ENDS Report 273, pp 38-39 ).

The Commission is hoping to agree a final proposal by the end of the year, and the first draft of a proposed Directive was sent to Member States in April. It contains a number of significant changes compared to the working paper:

  • Collection and recycling: Member States would have to ensure that producers - manufacturers and importers - set up systems to provide for reuse and recycling of collected WEEE. The earlier working paper placed this responsibility on "economic operators" - a term including retailers, dismantlers and reprocessors as well.

    Producers would also be responsible for collection, as well as recycling, of WEEE from waste holders "other than private households" - in effect, mainly commercial waste. Member States would have to "encourage" them to set up take-back schemes for household waste, but the way is left clear for countries to require local authorities to organise household WEEE collection if they choose.

    Not surpirisingly, most UK producers are concerned by the shift towards producer responsibility, according to Claire Snow, Director of the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER). But she added that there is also a feeling that the clear emphasis on just one part of the business chain should lead to a simpler system than under the UK's packaging regulations, where different sectors of the packaging chain are responsible for recovering and recycling different percentages of packaging waste.

    This feeling is shared by some producers in sectors such as IT, who could live with a levy on new products and believe it would make planning, accounting and competition issues easier to deal with. However, producers of household brown and white goods, which tend to have narrow profit margins, are distributed via retailers and sold on fixed price points, are very concerned.

    Member States would have to ensure that schemes were set up, with evenly distributed collection points, so that "last holders" of waste and retailers could return WEEE from households.

    The proposal in the working paper that retailers, when selling a new product, must take back a similar end-of-life product, has been retained. "Whether the provision is included to ensure a degree of shared responsibility, or because DGXI believes it is a practical approach to increasing the number of collection points, is an interesting question," said Ms Snow.

    Collection and reuse/recycling targets for various categories of WEEE remain at roughly the same level (see table ) and with deadlines still to be decided. There are some changes to the categories, listed in Annex IA of the draft, with tools included and cables, surgical equipment and watches and clocks exempted.

    An indicative list of products falling in each category is contained in Annex IB. ICER wants a short, exhaustive list of products drawn up to avoid many items, such as hairdriers and calculators, being brought within the scope of the Directive when their environmental impact is relatively small, and will prepare its own suggested list.

    Member States would have to encourage producers to integrate an increasing quantity of recycled or used material in equipment, and would have to take this requirement into account in national legislation on public procurement.

  • Product design and hazardous substances: Member States would have to take necessary measures to reduce the number of different types of plastics as far as possible, with the international standard ISO11469 being used for the generic identification and marking of plastic products.

    In a move bound to provoke producers of brominated flame retardants, halogenated flame retardants have joined mercury, lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium on the list of hazardous substances to be phased out from electrical and electronic products. Annex II lists exemptions from this provision for all the substances except chromium. They include lead in the glass of cathode ray tubes, light bulbs and fluorescent tubes but not in solder, and halogenated flame retardants in cases where "the relevant fire safety standard can technically not be achieved through the use of other types of flame retardant."

  • Treatment: The requirement to remove all fluids and treat components or materials listed in an annex has been replaced by more comprehensive treatment provisions. Producers would be responsible for establishing treatment "systems", which would include a selected treatment listed in Annex III.

    For example, cathode ray tubes would either have to be kept whole in storage for later treatment or recycled, while fluorocarbon refrigerants present in the foam and refrigerating circuits of fridges and freezers would have to be "properly extracted and treated."

    Organisations carrying out treatment operations would have to obtain a waste licence. Technical requirements for sites storing or treating WEEE are set out in an Annex IV.

    These provisions would have a major impact on parts of the UK waste management industry. Scrap metal merchants currently able to operate without a waste licence, for example, would have to obtain one unless a new form of recycler's licence was introduced.

    Shredder operators would have to invest in equipment to capture emissions of CFCs and other refrigerants, instead of emitting them to the atmosphere as they do currently.

  • Costs: Member States would have to ensure that domestic WEEE could be returned free of charge. As in the working paper, treatment, recycling and disposal costs would have to be included in the product's price, but the new proposals extend this provision to embrace the costs of transport from collection points. Also retained is the provision for an optional fee on new products to cover recovery costs for equipment sold before the Directive comes into force.

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