What changes wait in the wings for WEEE?

Revisions are expected to come into force to make the WEEE Directive simpler and more cost-effective to administer, as Ellie Watson and Simon Read explain

The WEEE Directive and the UK regulations that govern it have been criticised as being overly burdensome and costly. To address these issues, the EU Commission and BERR have recently carried out separate reviews of the regime and its implementation.

In reviewing the directive's implementation, the Comm-ission identified a number of deficiencies. Firstly, it became apparent that the administrative, technical and legal obligations had become too complicated and expensive to administer for producers and regulators alike.

In particular, the varying registration and reporting requirements in different member states had resulted in considerable difficulties for companies operating across the EU. Secondly, with only approximately one-third of WEEE actually being recycled in the EU, the directive was proving to be ineffective in achieving the aims originally envisaged.

Calls for greater harmonisation
To address this, the Commission is proposing a number of amendments. The first is to harmonise the reporting and registration obligations on producers by introducing national registers. Producers will only be required to register within one member state. It is estimated this could save up to ?60M.

The second is to replace the current target of 4kg per person with a new annual collection target of 65%, which each member state is to be required to achieve from 2016. This target will be based upon the average weight of products placed onto the market in the preceding two years and applies to household and non-household WEEE.

This change has been proposed to address the criticism that member states whose households use more EEE should have more ambitious targets. It has also been proposed to introduce minimum inspection requirements for all member states, and minimum monitoring requirements for the shipping of WEEE to third countries.

Some of the definitions used in the original directive may also be amended to overcome a number of ambiguities, and to harmonise it with other European legislation such as the revised Waste Framework Directive. These amendments will give legal effect to parts of the FAQ guidance previously published by the Commission, which many producers had used to determine whether their products fell within the scope of the WEEE Directive.

Specific to the UK
So, what particular changes are being proposed to the UK regulations? BERR published a consultation on proposed amendments last December - it should be noted that the BERR consultation is entirely separate from the EU review, and is aimed at UK regulations specifically.

The primary purpose of the changes proposed under the BERR consultation is to reduce the administrative burden and streamline the WEEE system. Specifically, the proposals aim to improve the producer compliance scheme (PCS) system.

PCSs are the bodies through which producers comply with their obligations, and amendments have been suggested to the way in which PCSs are approved and how they operate to improve cooperation between the different schemes and to improve certainty in the system.

BERR is also looking to continue and improve the distributor takeback system (DTS). The DTS is the body set up to organise the collection of WEEE on behalf of distributors and retailers. Amendments will be made with the aim of increasing the amount of household WEEE that is dealt with under the WEEE regime, in particular small appliances which are commonly disposed of with ordinary household waste.

Reducing the burden of red tape
It has been proposed to simplify the data reporting requirements and evidence system to reduce administrative burdens on producers and distributors. BERR is seeking views on the development of a Code of Practice on the collection of WEEE from designated collection facilities, the development of industry protocols, revisions to guidance on treatment, recycling and recovery techniques.

It is also looking at extending the Duty of Care so it applies to final users of non-household WEEE that agree with the producer to deal with the WEEE themselves. BERR will also be carrying out a consultation on the EU proposals described above in due course.

But will these changes make the WEEE regime better? Although the EU review and the BERR consultation are attempting to address similar issues, they are quite different in what amendments they are proposing. Those suggested in the Commission's review are broad and general - and will require implementation by the UK if and when they come into force - whereas those to the UK regulations are tweaks to the UK's existing system.

However, both should overcome some of the difficulties that all players in the WEEE regime have experienced to date and ensure that compliance in the future is simpler and possibly obtainable at lower cost.

Ellie Watson and Simon Read are solicitors in the planning and environmental team at Pinsent Masons

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