DTI backs 'clearing house' for WEEE collection

Proposals for an national clearing house to organise the collection of electrical appliances for recycling are included in a consultation paper from the Department of Trade and Industry on implementation of the EU Directives on waste electrical and electronic equipment and the restriction of hazardous substances in such equipment.1 Retailers would have to offer in-store take-back for appliances, or join a proposed retailer compliance scheme that would fund the provision of collection facilities. Councils would be encouraged - but not required - to provide collection facilities for WEEE.

The Government is aiming to transpose the WEEE Directive and its sister Directive on hazardous substances by the deadline set by the Directives - August 2004. It hopes to issue draft regulations in late spring 2004, accompanied by draft non-statutory guidelines on technical issues.

  • Manufacturers and importers: Dubbed "producers" by the legislation, these include the many high street retailers who sell own brand electrical goods. Such companies will be legally and financially responsible for ensuring that all separately collected WEEE is treated to minimum standards and that reuse/recycling and recovery targets are met for the various types of collected equipment.

    Producers will have the option of discharging these duties directly by reporting evidence of recovery to the enforcement authority, or by joining a compliance scheme that would assume the obligations on their behalf.

    Producers will also have to register with a central authority and report data on equipment put on the market and the recycling arranged for those types of equipment. The period for initial registration will stretch from August 2004 to June 2005.

    The Government has decided to back the idea of a national clearing house to co-ordinate the free collection of WEEE from civic amenity sites on demand and its delivery to those who will treat, refurbish, recycle or recover it. Whether a small number of regional bulking up sites will be needed for WEEE collected from CA sites has yet to be decided.

    The body would be funded by producers, possibly through a registration fee, and would operate on a not-for-profit basis under a mandate from the Government.

    The idea was proposed earlier this year by a group of four manufacturers - Electrolux, Hewlett-Packard, Gillette and Sony (ENDS Report 341, pp 23-27 ). The paper says that the idea now "commands significant support from business" and is similar to the approach being taken in Germany.

    The four companies are among those planning to take up the WEEE Directive's provision allowing producers to collect and recycle their "new" equipment put on the market after August 2005 using their own, separate systems.

    The clearing house could establish producers' shares of the UK appliance market, based on data submitted by producers, and calculate their WEEE obligations month by month. Each collection of WEEE would be allocated to a compliance scheme or individually registered producer, who would have an obligation to collect within a certain period, "perhaps 48 hours".

    How the clearing house would allocate collections fairly, and how such a system would fit in with the existing system of long-term contracts between councils and waste management companies for running CA sites, has yet to be finalised. The Government expects the system's proponents to produce proposals.

    After the loads of WEEE are allocated to compliance schemes or producers it would be for them to contract with "authorised treatment facilities" and to arrange reporting of data to the clearing house to confirm tonnages reused, recycled and recovered against their obligations. An obligation will be placed on producers to fund treatment and recovery of household WEEE.

    Alternatively, the clearing house could run a complete UK collection service itself. Either way, the actual collection and delivery of WEEE would probably be sub-contracted.

    If a clearing house is established, the paper says it will be important to ensure efficiency measures for its operation, to keep it separate from compliance schemes, and to ensure that it is not anti-competitive. Such a monopoly - even one that does not itself enter into recycling contracts - would also signal a major cultural shift in Whitehall and the DTI's willingness to accept ideas from industry.

    It also reflects an expected defeat for the idea of tradable certificates for WEEE recycling and recovery. This will disappoint material reprocessors, who have significant influence over the market for packaging waste recovery notes. It will also disappoint packaging compliance schemes such as Valpak which had hoped to capitalise on their expertise in tradable certificates.

    However, the move will please producers, who will feel they have more control over recycling costs. It has also been welcomed by the Local Authority Recycling Advisory Committee for offering them a single point of contact with producers.

    An obligation to fund recovery and recycling of household WEEE from CA sites or retail parks will be placed on producers, who will be free to discharge the obligation either directly in relation to their own products or by joining a compliance scheme.

    Producers will also have to pay for the treatment and recovery of commercial equipment where it is taken back and replaced like for like. But where it is not taken back and replaced, the end user will have to foot the bill.

    The Government has yet to decide whether to allow businesses to introduce, for a limited period, a visible fee at the point of sale to cover the costs of recovering "historic" WEEE put on the market before August 2005. Many producers support the idea, but most retailers oppose it because they fear that the levy will have to come out of their profits.

  • Local authorities: The WEEE Directive requires Member States to adopt "appropriate measures in order to minimise the disposal of WEEE as unsorted municipal waste and to achieve a high level of separate collection of WEEE" by August 2005.

    Earlier this year, it appeared that the DTI was considering placing an obligation on councils to provide collection systems for WEEE and persuading the Treasury to provide the necessary funds (ENDS Report 344, p 16 ).

    However, the paper says that "the Government is clear" that the Directive should not place any new burdens on local authorities and there will be no requirement, for example, for every CA site to offer separate collection of WEEE.

    Instead, councils will be encouraged to upgrade existing CA sites by submitting bids to a new WEEE recycling fund provided through a new, national take-back compliance scheme for retailers. The paper suggests that funding should initially be "at least" £5 million in each year between 2005 and 2010, with an interim review in 2008 when the Directive is due to be revised.

    All UK local authorities will have access to the proposed new clearing house service, "which would remove WEEE on demand within 48 hours free of charge." Financial penalties could be placed on producers if the service fell below an expected standard.

    Councils will be able to continue selling equipment to recyclers or donating it to charities, but such organisations will have an obligation to report data on tonnages collected and the reuse and recovery achieved. They will also have to ensure that any subsequent recovery or disposal was conducted by an authorised company and that the relevant data were submitted to the clearing house.

  • Retailers: The Directive requires retailers to ensure that household appliances can be returned to stores free of charge on a one-for-one basis, but alternative arrangements, such as pre-paid envelopes for smaller items or kerbside collections, can be introduced provided they do not make the task any harder for householders.

    Under the DTI's proposals, retailers will be free to choose either to offer in-store take-back or - as is much more likely - to join a take-back compliance scheme that would fulfil the collection obligations on its behalf.

    The Government has invited the retail sector to develop detailed proposals for such a scheme, which would have to offer an "adequate" network of collection schemes and facilities for the whole of the UK. Whether the scheme, and the required funding commitment, would need to be made statutory is not decided.

    The network should include facilities in "all the major" retail parks. It "should be possible to accommodate these relatively small facilities close by or perhaps in a retail unit on the site with minimum disruption." Such sites would not need a waste management licence or registered exemption but would have to be approved by the Environment Agencies. Operators would be expected to ensure they did not become general waste sites.

    If such a facility cannot be set up in a particular shopping centre, the compliance scheme may provide the alternative of a "bring event several times a year either there or at another location.". Another alternative would be sponsorship of kerbside collections. All retailers will have to provide information to consumers on the scheme's local arrangements, or on their own in-store service.

    The combined cost of establishing the WEEE recycling fund for local authorities and providing collection facilities of their own is not expected to cost the retail sector more than £10 million per year for 2005-10, says the paper.

    Just £6-12 million in capital costs, plus £4-9 million in ongoing staffing and training costs, would be needed to upgrade CA sites sufficiently to provide an adequate network of collection facilities, according to an assessment conducted for the DTI by Network Recycling.

    The study found that over half of CA sites currently collect appliances other than fridges, while there is considerable capacity to expand collection of WEEE on the basis of available site space alone. However, there are relatively few sites in London and in rural areas.

    If the retail sector fails to come up with suitable proposals for a compliance scheme, mandatory in-store take-back would apply and alternative funding arrangements would be required for councils.

    While retailers accept that they have an obligation under the Directive to help provide a free take-back service of some sort, they are unhappy that the Government wants them to pay for improvements to CA sites that will benefit the recycling of other types of waste besides WEEE. They are also worried that a precedent might be set.

  • Scope: Uncertainty about exactly which types of equipment are covered by the Directives is an issue of major concern to businesses. The DTI hopes to publish non-statutory guidance in late spring setting out generic criteria, along with worked examples, to help firms establish the status of those products where it is unclear whether they fall under the Directives. The criteria are being developed with other Member States to ensure a harmonised approach across the EU.

  • Measurement of collected WEEE: The Directive sets a national collection target of 4kg of WEEE per capita, plus different recycling and recovery targets for various categories of collected equipment.

    Collection of data to demonstrate the UK's compliance with the collection target should occur "primarily" at authorised treatment facilities, says the paper. Data on recycling and recovery of the different categories of equipment could be produced using a protocol setting down the average amount of collected WEEE in each category.

  • Treatment and recovery standards: The Directive requires WEEE to be treated using best available treatment, recycling and recovery techniques, and to meet minimum requirements set out in an annex. Guidance on these requirements will be published by the Environment Department for consultation next spring.

    Such facilities must have a permit or registered exemption, subject to annual inspection. These provisions will be implemented as part of the new permitting regime for waste facilities on which the Government plans to consult in the spring (see pp 35-36 ).

    The Government will also work with the reuse sector to develop and promote codes of practice or standards for refurbishment, including guidelines on the assessment of suitable products and on consumer guarantees.

  • Recovery targets: The Directive lists equipment according to ten broad categories, and sets reuse/recycling and recovery targets for all of them except medical equipment. The targets will have to be achieved based on the weight of WEEE separately collected minus the weight of WEEE sent for reuse.

    Where different categories of WEEE share the same reuse/recycling and recovery targets, they will, in effect, be amalgamated (see table). This could allow certain product categories, such as consumer equipment, to underperform if other categories set the same targets can compensate.

    Instead of placing targets on each producer, targets will be placed collectively on producers responsible for placing on the market the products in particular categories. If some producers choose to discharge their obligations individually, they will have to agree with the rest of the relevant group what individual targets they must meet.

    To overcome the complexity of having different targets for different groups of categories, and because the secondary materials derived from WEEE get mixed with similar materials from other waste streams, a mass balance approach will be used to measure compliance with the targets. For example, it could be agreed that 10% of the ferrous metal in a particular grade of scrap is derived from WEEE.

  • Eco-design and reuse: Member States are required to "encourage" eco-design and "take appropriate measures" so that producers do not "design out" the reuse of equipment. They must also ensure that the recovery of WEEE "gives priority" to the reuse of whole appliances. Future revisions to the Directive are likely to include reuse targets.

    Not surprisingly, the DTI has rejected the idea of legislation to require manufacturers to carry out eco-design. Instead, it proposes to convene a business forum to consider the issue in preparation for the proposed Directive on eco-design of energy-using products - which relies heavily on self-assessment (ENDS Report 344, pp 54-55 ).

    To promote reuse, the Government is considering the development of a performance indicator on reuse for local authorities under the Best Value regime. Other proposals include the provision of "incentives for producers to give preference to reuse options" or making compliance schemes show how, as a condition of their registration, they will encourage reuse.

  • Registration and enforcement: Producers will be required to register as a condition of placing equipment on the UK market. The register would comprise three sections, covering England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and producers would be registered in one of these according to the location of their registered office.

    A business organisation, such as the clearing house, could administer the registry. It would act on behalf of the Environment Agencies, which would have oversight and approval of their respective territorial sections of the register. Regardless of the operational arrangements, the Agencies would be the enforcement authorities.

    The DTI says it is "under no illusions that there may initially be widespread non-registration" and that this was a clear concern from the previous consultation. But it does not plan to copy Germany and make retailers pay the treatment costs for unregistered producers whose products they sell.

  • Information for users: The DTI has dropped the idea of a general duty on producers, retailers and possibly waste collection authorities to give end users details of local collection systems. Instead, it is proposing a non-statutory approach requiring retailers to be ready to respond to requests from the public. Whether this could be fulfilled by the proposed retailer compliance scheme is unclear.

  • Information for treatment facilities: The requirement for producers to provide reuse and treatment information will be met by obliging them to respond to "reasonable" requests from recyclers, refurbishers and others for information about the design, composition and ease of dismantling of their products.

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