New proposals for WEEE evidence trading issued

The Business Department (BERR) is to change the regulations governing the recycling of waste electrical goods so compliance schemes cannot rely so heavily on evidence trading. Last year, the issue threatened to destabilise the regime.

Producer compliance schemes, which ensure companies comply with rules to recycle waste electrical goods, are unlikely to be allowed to operate if they over- or under-collect material, under revised regulations due to come into force in 2010.

In December, the Business Department (BERR) issued proposals to change the regulations governing recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Under the regime, producers of electrical goods must fund waste recycling in proportion to their market share. They do this by joining compliance schemes, which collect WEEE from designated collection facilities (DCFs) such as civic amenity sites. The schemes then take WEEE to recyclers which issue evidence that it has been recycled. This evidence can then be traded, with schemes that have exceeded their targets selling it to under-achievers.

Problems with WEEE collection have dominated the regime since late 2007. These have centred on a row between two compliance schemes: REPIC and Electrolink (ENDS Report 392, p 18 ). REPIC, the largest compliance scheme, failed to sign up enough DCFs to obtain the evidence it needed, forcing it to trade with Electrolink. REPIC alleged that Electrolink was demanding too high a price.

The two schemes reached an agreement last March (ENDS Report 398, p 22 ). But in August BERR wrote a warning letter to all schemes highlighting schedule 7 of the Regulations, which states compliance schemes must have "viable plans to collect the amount of WEEE that is equivalent to the amount of WEEE for which it will be responsible" (ENDS Report 403, p 23 ).

The letter implied that compliance schemes could not trade evidence to meet their obligation. But that decision appeared to ignore the possibility that schemes might already have signed long-term agreements to trade evidence with each other or have signed long-term agreements with councils to collect WEEE. December’s consultation document clarifies the position and says trading should be allowed.

Currently, the UK’s environment agencies approve compliance schemes for three years, it says. From 2010, schemes will not have to apply for reapproval. But their status will be reviewed each year by the agencies following submission of their operational plan.

"If… the agencies reach the view that the proposed operational plan will result in significant over or under-collection… approval will not be granted," the consultation says. The only exception is if a scheme can show it has "planned and agreed" trading with other schemes. "The revised regulations will not specify any limits on the level of trading which can take place," it adds. But trading should take place throughout a scheme year, not just at its end.

This seems to have prevented another row between REPIC and Electrolink emerging. ENDS understands some trading between the two schemes occurred during 2008. Electrolink has written to all schemes likely to be requiring evidence to propose early meetings about the document’s impacts.

The rest of the consultation looks at other ways of improving the regime, especially in view of recommendations from the government’s WEEE Advisory Body (ENDS Report 400, pp 22-23 ).

Treatment facilities will now have to report how much WEEE they receive and from which scheme, it says. Currently they do not have to report who they receive the WEEE from, leading to a risk of double-counting. For example, a treatment facility could receive waste and then send it to another plant for further treatment or reuse, which will also log the tonnage.

From 2010 facilities must also show they meet the minimum recovery and recycling targets laid down in the WEEE Regulations if they are to be approved under the regime, BERR says.

Views are also sought on what should happen to the distributor take-back scheme from 2010. Under this, electronic goods distributors, such as high street shops, must develop a country-wide network of DCFs. They do this by funding local authorities to upgrade civic amenity sites. The only alternative is to offer in-store WEEE take-back.

BERR says businesses and councils want the scheme to continue. But it asks what form it should take, what fees distributors should pay and what this money would be used for.

There are several other important issues the consultation only takes a cursory look at. For example, it asks for views on whether WEEE protocols need to be changed. Treatment firms use these to estimate the quantities of mixed WEEE that arrive at sites and have come in for criticism. Of particular concern is the requirement that 14% of each load should be deemed non-WEEE.

"To date no [alternative] protocols have been put forward by industry for approval," BERR says. But it will consider any proposals put forward in response to the consultation.

The consultation takes a brief look at the issue of treatment standards for refrigeration equipment. Under the EU’s WEEE Directive, ozone-depleting substances and hydrocarbons must be removed from WEEE during recycling. Some recyclers argue that fridges must be treated by specialist plant designed to remove CFCs in case they contain such chemicals (ENDS Report 396, pp 16-17 ). BERR recognises this debate, but says treatment standards are a matter of concern for the European Commission’s review of the Directive (see pp 55-57).

The consultation runs until 6 April.

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