Government digs in heels over ELV recovery, printer cartridges

The Government does not expect its decision to adopt an "own marque" approach to financing end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recovery to cause a shortage of treatment facilities, according to its response to the House of Commons Environment Committee.1 The response also contradicted Industry Minister Stephen Timms' earlier admission that the Government could choose to include printer cartridges in legislation to implement the Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment.

The MP's report, issued in February, followed earlier criticism of the Government's efforts to transpose the EU Directives on ELVs and waste electrical and electronic equipment.

The Committee warned against the "own marque" approach to ELV recovery, under which car manufacturers and importers will have to meet targets specifically for their own vehicles, and establish their own networks of authorised treatment facilities (ATFs) for vehicle dismantling and recovery. The MPs warned that the approach will lead to consolidation in the vehicle dismantling sector because manufacturers will favour larger dismantling businesses. It could mean vehicles' last owners and council contractors collecting abandoned vehicles having to travel long distances to find an ATF (ENDS Report 349, pp 43-44 ).

In its response, published in May, the Government accepted that some consolidation was inevitable, given the higher treatment standards laid down by the Directive, but said properly licensed operators would "welcome the closing down of illegal operators, whose ability to undermine them they have long complained about."

Moreover, the Government's proposal that, on average, last holders of ELVs will not have to drive more than 10 miles to reach an ATF "is intended...to provide convenience and accessibility for the last owner."

In the event, the Committee's report came too late to influence events. Within days of its publication, the own marque approach was included in draft regulations transposing the Directive's producer responsibility provisions (ENDS Report 349, pp 48-49 ).

The Government side-stepped the Committee's concern that, under a system where each car manufacturer establishes its own network of ATFs, councils will not be able to use a single contractor to deal with abandoned vehicles. Instead it said that "recovery contractors appointed by local authorities" would be able to deliver abandoned vehicles to ATFs, and that councils would enjoy the same degree of accessibility as car owners.

It also declined to reassess the funding provided to councils for dealing with "increased abandonment up to 2007" - after which, under the Directive, car producers must assume responsibility for the treatment costs.

An increase in abandonment was "a possibility, but by no means a certainty," the Government said, while the £25 million per annum for three years provided to local authorities was designed to cover any additional costs.

The Committee had also wanted the Government to reconsider its plan to exclude printer cartridges from the scope of the WEEE Directive - in particular article 4, which prohibits design features that prevent WEEE from being reused.

During a Commons debate on the issue on 31 March, Industry Minister Stephen Timms admitted that the Government could choose to include cartridges in the forthcoming regulations to implement the Directive, but its chief aim was to avoid "gold plating" of EU rules (ENDS Report 351, p 38 ).

Despite this, the Government's response to the Committee, published some six weeks later, maintained that cartridges "do not fall within the scope of the WEEE Directive". Furthermore, it saw "no evidence that the reuse of printer cartridges will suffer" under the Directive.

The Government argued that if they were included, cartridge manufacturers would have to take them back for recycling, "leaving fewer cartridges available for remanufacturers to refill." However, this argument ignores the potential impact of applying article 4 to cartridges.

It also implies that the refurbishment sector in general is right to fear that the Directive's lack of reuse targets will push the sector to the sidelines as producers concentrate on meeting their targets for recovery and "recycling and reuse" (ENDS Report 350, pp 51-53 ).

The Committee's concern that the Environment Agency may not have adequate resources to deal with the Directives received the brief response that the Agency "will be able to recover the costs...from the parties it will be regulating." No mention was made of whether the Agency has sufficient time to train staff, prepare guidance or deal with permit applications.

In response to concern that DEFRA lacked the skills and capacity to deal with complex EU legislation, the Government said the Department's team of environmental lawyers was increased from three to five and a half in May 2002, and that DEFRA was "on course" to draft regulations to implement the treatment and permitting requirements of the WEEE Directive "in accordance with the agreed timetable" by late spring.

The Government will also "consider if it would be appropriate" for officials to be seconded for a short period to the recycling sector to improve their understanding of the industry.

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