Lack of control at the root of WEEE problems

Dr Phil Morton, chief executive of REPIC, the UK's argest WEEE Producer Compliance Scheme comments on the potential pitfalls of the current system.

For the first time since its introduction to the UK two years ago, the WEEE Directive made front page of The Independent after a joint investigation between the national newspaper, Sky News and Greenpeace, uncovered a large amount of unusable e-waste was being exported to Lagos, Nigeria.

Consumers discard their WEEE in good faith, in the belief that it will be treated in the correct manner and in accordance with the law.

However, the investigation stopped everyone in their tracks and put the spotlight firmly on the current operating system, which has been in place since the Directive was implemented in July 2007.

Dr Morton believes that the root of all the current problems lies with the lack of control within the system.

"This particular investigation brought to the forefront, one of the major faults with the UK WEEE system - the lack of direct influence PCSs that must fund the system have on the whole recycling process.

"Producers are keen to ensure their responsibilities are handled properly, effectively and in an environmentally friendly manner, which is why many chose to establish their own PCSs. Sadly, as can be seen from this recent incident, PCSs are not always able to exert control over the fate of member's end of life products.

"Where control is not in their hands, unethical and inappropriate routes can occur without their knowledge. The continuing absence of a direct link between PCSs and access to physical WEEE means that incidents like this are likely to continue."

After reading the findings of the investigation, published on the 18th February 2008, and from its own dealings over the last two years, REPIC believes that there are flaws in the current UK WEEE system that need to be addressed.

Each PCS needs to collect and treat the share of WEEE which will meet its members' responsibilities.

"However, because some PCSs have elected to voluntarily and grossly over contract for much more WEEE that their members need, it has resulted in other PCSs being deprived of access to that WEEE, being kept at arm's length, being forced to collect too little physical WEEE and thus to need to buy evidence, often at inappropriate prices and with no audit trail.

"These PCSs therefore have no visibility of what has actually happened to the WEEE that they are financing.

"The simple solution is for PCSs to have a direct relationship for the WEEE they require and not be forced to deal through self appointed over collectors.

"This is not to say that there should be no contracts and relationships between local authorities and their incumbent waste contractors or site operators.

"Such existing contracts often span many years and it is important to maintain these. REPIC is happy to interface directly with current site operators, retain their services and work with them to maximise the amount of separately collected WEEE. It makes sense and maintains continuity.

Morton continues: "PCSs, when they buy evidence from others, simply don't know where the WEEE is ending up and what we have seen recently is a direct result of a lack of the ability of PCSs to influence the route of onward movement and processing of WEEE which they ultimately must fund.

"The solution to these flaws, REPIC believes, and one that it wants to be put forward in the revised WEEE Regulations, is to enforce against PCSs that contract for more WEEE than they need to meet their members' legitimate obligations.

"Over-collecting PCSs choose to do so whereas, once at least one PCS is over-collecting, at least one PCS is forced to under collect as a direct and unavoidable result.

"It is also important to recognise that transition can be simple - by retaining the incumbent contractors at site level who align themselves with one or more PCS which need the WEEE arising.

"By doing it this way, there will be no disruption at the site level as all the contractors can continue to clear the sites as normal.

"Unfortunately, until PCSs are enabled to contract directly for the amount of physical WEEE which they need to meet their members' obligations and can therefore influence the route through which WEEE is treated, there remain purely financial incentives for further WEEE being inappropriately shipped out of the country in the future.

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