Producer responsibility: what's on the horizon?

With the WEEE Directive undergoing extensive consultation and new battery regulations just come into play, producers are facing a greater burden of compliance. Maxine Perella reports

Producer responsibility issues were debated at London Remade's latest network meeting, held in London last month, where various directives covering packaging, WEEE, batteries and end-of-life vehicles were discussed.

The current consultation around the WEEE Directive, which may result in a significant recasting of the regulations going forward, was a central theme of the debate. While WEEE is one of Europe's fastest growing waste streams, there is a concern in the UK that the current collection and recycling rates are too low.

Elizabeth Shepherd, a partner at legal firm Eversheds, told delegates that "glitches in the system have emerged" and that future proposals for the directive may see current fixed collection targets being replaced by targets based on the average weight of products which producers have sold in the previous two years. "There's likely to be more collection and recycling targets imposed on producers which inevitably means costs will rise as the burden becomes more intense, but that is the only way the UK can satisfy its targets," she said.

She added that targets for recycling and reuse of WEEE are lik-ely to incr-ease, and there may well be a move towards producers having to bear additional costs by paying for separate collections from householders, not just civic amenity sites. "That's a worrying concept for producers," Shepherd said.

Tougher WEEE targets due
Adrian Hawkes, director of policy at Valpak, speculated that proposals for the new EU WEEE targets could come into force for 2016, but emphasised this timeframe was still under debate. He went on to examine how UK performance in producer responsibility was measuring up compared to the rest of Europe. "History has shown the UK to be slow off the mark in implementing producer responsibility and perhaps coming from a lower level of recycling, but we have often produced solutions with considerable benefits for industry," Hawkes observed.

While the UK was late in implementing both the packaging and WEEE regulations, it has managed to set up relatively cost-effective systems compared to other countries. "In 1997 when the packaging regulations were in place, the UK was one of the worst performers on packaging recycling - under 30% - but by 2008 we met the targets which were a 60% overall recovery rate, practically a doubling in performance. We also achieved that with probably the lowest cost system for industry in Europe," Hawkes said.

"With WEEE we were late again in implementing the directive but when regulations were in place, the UK was already exceeding the 4kg per head collection target. Again, we've ended up with a system which has been much lower cost to producers than originally expected - less than £100M compared to an estimated cost of £500M to UK industry."

Batteries will be challenging
The one huge challenge waiting in the wings for both industry and government is the batteries directive, according to Hawkes. "The first target for recycling is 25% on portables with a 45% target in 2016. We're currently probably recycling less than 3% so we have to get from 3% to 25% by 2012."

The practicalities of producer compliance were examined by Mark Shayler, managing director of consultancy eco3, who outlined to delegates how the regulations were affecting organisations in their day-to-day business activities. On the question of who is a producer of WEEE, Shayler brought up the little known point of corporate branding.

"If you brand [EEE] equipment that you sell in the UK, are you responsible? For instance, companies that give out USB sticks with their brand on it - theoretically you are a producer, but have you registered with a compliance scheme?" he questioned, before adding that it was a grey area that hadn't really been tested yet.

He also pointed to various ongoing issues that needed to be resolved, mainly a lack of B2B WEEE being collected. Latest figures reveal that in the first quarter of 2009, around 80,000 tonnes of B2B WEEE was placed on the market, but only 3,700 tonnes collected and accounted for through official channels.

Another problem is producer registration - while more than 5,000 WEEE producers are registered in the UK, there are many more out there which remain unregistered. "So far we have seen no prosecutions, but it won't be long before we start to see some," Shayler warned.

Maxine Perella is editor of LAWR

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