WEEE collection/recycle targets to be ramped up

The European Commission has published its proposed revisions to EU legislation on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and that restrict certain hazardous substances (RoHS) in electronics.

The European Commission has proposed a revision of EU legislation on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), which outlines challenging new national collection targets and increased recovery and recycling targets.1 It has also published a revision to the Directive restricting certain hazardous substances in WEEE.2 The recast Directives are little changed from drafts seen by ENDS last month (ENDS Report 406, pp 51-52 ).

The most significant proposed change is to scrap the existing annual national WEEE collection target of 4 kilograms per person, which the Commission says is not ambitious enough for some EU countries and too ambitious for others.

Instead, "producers or third parties acting on their behalf" would have to collect at least 65% of the average weight of WEEE products placed on the market in the two preceding years. The wording of the text suggests that the Commission wants to shift collection responsibilities from governments to manufacturers.

The new collection target would apply from 2016, but member states could apply to the Commission for a time-limited derogation if "specific national circumstances" mean they would have difficulties in achieving it.

The Commission also proposes to change the definition of re-use to allow the re-use of whole appliances to count towards targets for recovery and for re-use and recycling.  To accommodate this, all targets would be raised by 5 percentage points by 31 December 2011.

Other changes include a scrapping of the eight-year time limit on "visible fees" and new minimum inspection and monitoring requirements for treatment facilities. Definitions have also been amended to improve clarity.

For RoHS, the Commission has stopped short of changing the list of restricted chemicals. It says that a lack of information on potential substitutes means it is not considered feasible to introduce further bans. But it does want to review four new chemicals for possible inclusion: the brominated flame retardant HBCDD and phthalates DEHP, BBP and DBP. Previous plans to include the flame retardant TBBP A in the shortlist have been dropped.

A mechanism for introducing substance bans in line with the EU’s chemical regime REACH has been proposed. Detailed rules will be developed through comitology. The European Chemicals Agency is likely to be given a role in evaluating substances.

It could mean that substances are banned in a much shorter time-scale than through traditional legislative routes. But there would be a crucial change to exemption criteria that would allow policy makers to lift bans on "socioeconomic" grounds. Exemptions would be limited to four years initially, but could be renewed. The Commission said this would "stimulate substitution efforts". 

Market surveillance is also to be strengthened, alongside new "product conformity assessment requirements". The Commission said that current member state checks reveal that up to 44% of electronics are still not compliant with the existing rules.

The scope of the law has also been extended to cover medical equipment from January 2014 and industrial monitoring and control devices from January 2017. Both proposals will be sent to the Environment Council and the European Parliament next year for discussion and negotiation. 

With the European Parliament elections due in June 2009 and a change of Commissioners in the autumn, the UK government is not expecting adoption of final texts until late 2009 at the earliest. Member states will have 18 months to adopt the text thereafter.

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