Council rejects the European Parliament’s new targets for collecting, recycling and re-using waste

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) aims to reduce the impact of electrical and electronic goods on the environment. It increases re-use and recycling and reduces the amount of WEEE going to landfill. It makes producers responsible for financing the collection, treatment, and recovery of waste electrical equipment, and obliges distributors to allow consumers to return their waste equipment free of charge. This Directive has an impact on producers, distributors and recyclers of electrical and electronic equipment.

In 2008, the European Commission has proposed revised laws on recycling and use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. The Commission has stressed that around 65% of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) placed on the market is separately collected however less than half of this is treated and reported according to the requirements of the Directive whereas the rest goes to landfill or ship abroad. Hence, the European Commission has proposed to revise the directive. In fact, the Commission has reached the conclusion that the directive is too complicated for operators in the market and for public authorities to implement.

According to the Commission the implementation of the WEEE has indicated “technical, legal and administrative problems that result in unintentionally costly efforts from market actors and administrations, continuing environmental harm, low levels of innovation in waste collection and treatment, a lack of level playing field or even distortion of competition and unnecessary administrative burden.

The Council reached yesterday (14 March) a political agreement on collection modalities and on the level of the targets. It is important to mention that the European Parliament has recently voted, at first reading, to tight up the Commission proposal. The MEPs proposed new targets for collecting, recycling and re-using waste.

The Commission believes that having different national policies on the management of WEEE impede the effectiveness of recycling policies, thus criteria must be laid down at Community level. The WEEE directive establishes the producer responsibility in order to encourage the design and production ob electrical and electronic equipment which takes into account and facilitate their repair, re-use and recycling. The directive requires Member States to adopt measures to minimise the disposal of WEEE as unsorted municipal waste. The Commission has stressed that in order to Member States to create efficient collection schemes, they would be required to achieve a high level of collection of WEEE. 

According to the Commission the existing collection target of 4 kg per person per year does not accurately reflect the situation in individual Member States. Hence, the Commission has proposed to set mandatory collection targets equal to 65% of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market over the two previous years in each Member State. The proposed collection rate should be achieved annually, starting in 2016. The majority of the Member states found the Commission's proposal to set a target for separate collection of WEEE at 65% too ambitious and not realistic. It represents a substantial change as Member States are presently required to collect a minimum of 4kgs, of separately collected WEEE from private households. The UK might have difficulties in achieving the separate collection targets proposed for WEEE.

Under the agreement recently reached by the Council a 45% target has to be achieved after 4 years from the entry into force of the directive, and a 65% target after 8 years, meaning in 2020. The agreement also foresees member states where consumers use less electronic devices such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia and Lithuania may reach a collection rate of 40-45% by 2016 and by 2022 they must achieve the full collection targets.

However, the European Parliament voted for Member States to achieve a collection target of 85% of all electronic waste produced as from 2016. This target is even more ambitious than that proposed by the European Commission.

The Commission’s proposal includes in the recycling and recovery targets of WEES the re-use of whole appliances and weight-base targets to be increased by 5% three years after the entry into force of the directive. The meps supported a 50-75% recycling target as well as the 5% re-use goal, suggested by the Commission suggested.

The Commission has stressed that priority should be given to the re-use of WEEE and its components but if this is not possible all WEEE collected separately should be sent for recovery. Under the Directive private households should be able to return WEEE free of charge and producers should finance the collection from collection facilities, and the treatment, recovery and disposal of WEEE. The MEPs believe that consumers should also be able to return very small items to retailers. The Council has rejected such ideia.

According to Euractiv, Xavier Durieu, secretary-general of EuroCommerce, said "Obliging retailers who sell phones to take back toasters is unwise. It will create some safety issues (light bulbs containing mercury break when deposited in shops) and could also jeopardise existing systems for the collection of small volume waste," Presently, local authorities paid for the collection. According to the Commission, producers should be encouraged by Member States to take full ownership of the WEEE collection particularly by financing the collection of WEEE throughout the whole waste chain, including from private house holds, so that producer financing within the EU is harmonised and to “shift payment for the collection of this waste from general tax payers to the consumers of EEEs in line with the polluter pays principle.

According to Euractiv, EICTA, the voice of EU information and communications technology and consumer electronics industries, is concerned that under the draft proposal producers would have to pay for household collection. According to EICTA this would create disproportionate financial burden on producers of electrical and electronic equipment. EICTA believes that the Commission amending proposal would "massively increase the costs of compliance with no environmental benefit.

The MEPS have voted for the costs of collecting e-waste from households to be split between consumers, manufacturers and retailers.

The majority of the member states want to re-introduce the existing meaning of the definition of producer at national level, as the definition of producer, at EU level, proposed by the Commission would create significant difficulties for Member States in the implementation of the Directive, particularly with regard to the financial responsibility of the producer for the management of WEEE and the achievement of the collection and recovery targets.

The Commission has also proposed the harmonisation of the registration and reporting obligations for producers between the national producer registers as well as making the national registers interoperable. However, all member states have criticised the inter-operational registers proposed by the Commission who raised a number of practical difficulties. Nevertheless, the European Parliament backed a Commission proposal and voted for the registers to be inter-operational.

The draft directive also provides for inspection requirements for Member States to strengthen the enforcement of the WEEE Directive. Monitoring requirements are also proposed for shipments of WEEE. According to the European Parliament exporters should carry the burden of proof that goods are reusable.

It remains to be seen what will come out of the negotiations between the Parliament and the Council to update rules on managing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

According to a labour government impact assessment the annual costs of the proposals would be around £37 million, while the consequent benefits would be about £11 million.

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