WEEE: Time to take action

The WEEE Directive will make UK manufacturers responsible for the 1M tonnes of electrical waste produced every year. Delays in its implementation have made businesses complacent - but now it is just around the corner. James Skidmore reports

The much-discussed and much-delayed Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations will soon come into force in the UK.

Designed to make manufacturers responsible for the cost of recycling the estimated 1M tonnes of electrical waste produced in the UK every year, the government's proposals for implementing the EU's WEEE Directive have been constantly reviewed and refined since the directive was first published in February 2003.

The end may be in sight, however. Recently, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the government department responsible for the transposition of the WEEE Directive, suggested that the regulations could be enacted into national law by January 1, 2007. Full implementation - or WEEE Day - would then follow between April and July 2007.

What has been happening in the intervening period? The DTI has been busy consulting with stakeholders representing producers, retailers, the waste-management industry, local authorities and representatives of SMEs, hearing their views and suggestions, and developing the principles of the WEEE Directive into a system that they hope will be workable.

So now is a good time to ask ourselves the big question: are UK businesses ready for WEEE Day? In particular, how prepared are we for the all-important retail element of the legislation?

First, some basics: there are two ways that retailers will be able to discharge their obligations under UK WEEE legislation. One way will be to provide an in-store take-back service or, if they are a distance seller, it is likely they will have to provide a free collection-on-delivery service when a customer buys a similar product. The second way to meet their obligations will be through the national scheme.

The Distributor Deposit Scheme (DDS) - which, once approved, will be operated by Valpak on behalf of the British Retail Consortium - is a crucial part of the UK WEEE system and will play a central role in its success.

Among the modifications to the proposed system announced recently was a name change for this scheme. The former Retail Compliance Scheme (RCS) is now to be known as the Distributor Deposit Scheme, to avoid confusion with producer compliance schemes.

In this context, the term "distributor" includes Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) retailers, distance sellers and manufacturers making direct sales to consumers. The DTI estimates that more than 75,000 of these businesses, from corner shops to major multinationals, could be obligated to comply with the regulations in the UK.

One of the many complications of the proposed legislation is that the DDS is required to assist in the development of a national network of collection facilities for WEEE, before producers can begin removing material from these facilities for recycling.

That is why Valpak welcomed the recent announcement that the government has set up a process by which Valpak can be provisionally, and then formally, approved as the scheme operator. In the meantime, it is putting the planned scheme into place by liaising with the retail sector and local-authority representatives.

At the same time, the producer sector is working with local-authority representatives to draw up a code of practice. This framework document will govern the relationship between the producers and the local authorities who operate the Civic Amenity (CA) sites that will be volunteered as Designated Collection Facilities (DCFs).

At these DCFs, WEEE will be collected in five categories wherever possible. These categories are:
  • Large household items containing ozone-depleting substances
  • Large household items that do not contain ozone-depleting substances
  • Televisions and monitors
  • Fluorescent tubes
  • All other WEEE
To date, 18 major retailers have expressed an interest in joining the DDS by provisionally signing up with Valpak's scheme.

The companies, who have signalled their commitment by making a combined pledge of £90,000 towards the scheme's set-up and ongoing costs, include some of the biggest names on the high street.

DSG International (including currys.digital, Currys and PC World), John Lewis, Comet, Argos, Tesco, Woolworths, Arcadia Group, B&Q, Boots, Homebase, J Sainsbury, House of Fraser, MFI, Morrisons, Next, Somerfield, the Co-operative Group and Wickes Building Supplies have all expressed their interest. For the scheme to work, it must attract retailers across the board, not only the big players.

Valpak has set up a steering group and is developing the scheme in co-operation with five representative trade associations, including the Radio Electrical and Television Retailers Association, the British Hardware Federation and the Federation of Small Businesses. The aim is to devise a compliance solution suitable for smaller retailers, which will encompass all obligated retailers, even those who are not members of a trade association.

The aim of the DDS is to make life easier for retailers. All UK retailers who do not join the scheme will be required under the legislation to offer facilities, free of charge, for consumers to deposit discarded WEEE items. These items must then be made available to a producer compliance scheme for collection and transportation to a designated facility, or possibly transferred to another site at a cost to the retailer.

Those who are part of the scheme will be able to meet their WEEE obligations without having to set up and run their own in-store take-back schemes. Instead, they will contribute to a central fund which helps ensure that the CA sites can accept WEEE. These sites will then form part of the national WEEE collection network.

The DDS is designed to be applicable to all sizes and all kinds of retailers, from retail chains who specialise in selling electrical and electronic equipment to smaller, independent retailers whose primary function is not the sale of such items.
The benefits of joining the national scheme are numerous. In general terms, the DDS will take on the burden of compliance and the responsibility for developing the national collection network. Anyone who is part of the scheme will have the reassurance of knowing they are WEEE compliant, without having to worry about the fine print of the legislation.

The DDS will provide retailers with a cost-effective way of meeting their compliance obligations. Although the details of charges are still to be agreed, Valpak anticipates that retailers will be charged at an affordable rate, based on the quantity of units they sell.

Joining the national scheme also means being part of a national WEEE recycling brand, with the support of a promotional and educational programme behind it.
Valpak will be undertaking an extensive programme of consumer education on its members' behalf, to increase public awareness and encourage participation.
Retailers who choose to go it alone face a number of hurdles. The most pressing of these is likely to be space, as they will be responsible for providing facilities for the storage of collected material, as well as possibly for transporting it to a bulking centre or other facility.

Since most of the DCFs are likely to be local-authority operated, Valpak is working with them and their representative groups to develop an offer that will ensure an adequate network of collection facilities. This will cover a similar geographical pattern to the existing CA sites and will comprise up to 1,070 sites in total, giving reasonable public access throughout the country for people who wish to deposit WEEE.

The latest timetable for the implementation of the WEEE Directive envisages a six-month transitional period from January 2007 until the end of June, when full implementation will be completed.

With so many delays to the date when the WEEE Directive becomes part of national law, it has been all too easy for businesses to grow complacent about compliance, putting off their decisions until the last minute. Now the directive is just around the corner.

Call 08450 682 572 or visit www.valpak.co.uk

James Skidmore is Valpak's business development manager

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