Threat of enforcement action to WEEE schemes

Producer compliance schemes have been told to take corrective action to prevent over-collection of WEEE evidence. If not, enforcement action beckons, the Business Department (BERR) warns.

Producer compliance schemes, which ensure companies comply with rules to recycle waste electrical and electronic equipment, have been warned by the Business Department (BERR) to collect only as much evidence of recycling as their members need.

BERR wrote to all compliance schemes in August warning them that enforcement action will be taken against any scheme that collects too much or too little WEEE. At worst, they could have their approval to operate withdrawn if they do not take suitable action.

Problems over the collection of WEEE have dominated the regime since last September, and have centred on a row between two compliance schemes: REPIC and Electrolink (ENDS Report 392, p 18 ). The row occurred because REPIC, the largest compliance scheme, failed to sign up enough designated collection facilities (DCFs) - such as council civic amenity sites - to obtain the evidence it needed, forcing it to trade with other schemes. Electrolink had a lot of surplus evidence because it had signed up 245 such facilities, despite representing only 0.53% of the market.

REPIC alleged that Electrolink was demanding too high a price for its evidence. But Electrolink countered that its costs reflected the need to pay a fair price to councils.

Earlier this year some councils wrote to BERR, appealing for it to intervene. Councils and their contractors were not being paid for WEEE collection and treatment because of the lack of trading.

The two schemes agreed to end the row in March (ENDS Report 398, p 22 ), but notes from a WEEE stakeholder event held by BERR in July show there is still great concern over the issue.1 Stakeholders warned at the meeting that there is the "potential for system collapse" because of over and under-collection of WEEE. The issue is distorting and disrupting the WEEE market and resulting in a loss of confidence in the workability of the system, they added.

The Environment Agency has confirmed that all schemes now have evidence "broadly in line" with their 2007 obligations. This follows a flurry of trading in evidence in May and June. However, ministers are unsympathetic. "I cannot and will not let any producer compliance scheme running with its own agenda threaten the whole system," said Malcolm Wicks, the BERR minister responsible for WEEE, in a statement to coincide with the stakeholder meeting. "We will be working with the enforcement authorities to ensure that those that wish to distort the system are dealt with effectively."

BERR’s letter - sent on 11 August to all schemes in England, Scotland and Wales - warns that they must address the issue or face enforcement action. It highlights Schedule 7, Part 4 of the regulations, which states "the operator of the proposed scheme… [must have] viable plans to collect an amount of WEEE that is equivalent to the amount of WEEE for which it will be responsible for financing under these Regulations."

BERR says that the word "equivalent" means that schemes should not be putting forward plans that result in significant over or under-collection in relation to their obligations. "Furthermore this relates to amounts of WEEE collected, not the level of evidence obtained by the scheme after trading."

The environment agencies are now due to examine operational plans against indicative obligations for 2008. BERR says this will include an assessment of whether schemes have viable plans to collect the required amount of WEEE but "shall not take into account trades or the potential for trades, given they do not effect the collection obligations". It continues: "If it is apparent to the environment agencies that schemes are under or over collecting… they will expect action to be taken to correct this."

Initially such action may be the agreement of a plan to change collection methods - such as divesting excess DCFs or obtaining new ones. A firm timetable is likely to be included. However, if this fails to change matters, the environment agencies "will take appropriate enforcement action (including withdrawal of scheme approval)".

No compliance scheme was available to comment on the letter as ENDS went to press.

News of the letter shortly followed confirmation that the UK has exceeded an EU target to collect 4kg of household waste electrical and electronics equipment (WEEE) per person per year. In 2007 it achieved a rate of 6kg per person, according to the Environment Agency - equivalent to over 184,000 tonnes of WEEE.

However, notes from the WEEE stakeholder event show many in industry believe "the UK has not achieved a great deal in year one in terms of collection beyond what already existed". A public information campaign that may have increased WEEE collections beyond business-as-usual levels was expected to launch a year ago, but BERR said at the meeting this has been delayed until the autumn.

  • Electrical recycler Wincanton has begun work on a new WEEE treatment facility in Daventry, Northampton, which will see its UK WEEE recycling capabilities double. The new 100,000 tonnes capacity, £5 million facility is expected to be in full operation in early 2009. The firm opened its first treatment plant in Billingham, Teesside, in 2006.
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