Pressure mounts for eco-design incentive under WEEE Directive

The Government has been called upon to kick-start individual producer responsibility (IPR) in the UK by incentivising manufacturers to design electrical and electronic goods that are easier to reuse or recycle.

As legislative preparations begin for the WEEE Directive recast, expected to come into force next year, recommendations have been submitted to the Department for Innovations & Skills (BIS) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) urging ministers to introduce IPR within the UK WEEE system through a series of measures including a weighting mechanism for eco-design.

The calls come from a dedicated working group, which sees IPR as a crucial tool to encourage producers of WEEE to be more accountable for the end-of-life treatment costs of their products through implementing better design processes.

One of the organisations involved in the working group is NGO Waste Watch. Its business engagement manager Claudia Kuss-Tenzer told edie that the WEEE Directive currently falls short of its original environmental aims and that IPR was one way to address this.

"So far, there is not a huge amount of evidence out there of better eco-design within the WEEE process as there is no obligation for manufacturers to look at this," she said.

She added that while brand leaders were addressing the issue to some extent with electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, other products such as toasters or hairdryers were being neglected.

"How do we incentivise eco-design for less desirable WEEE which contains a lot of plastic, but less valuable materials?" she questioned.

The working group has evaluated a wide range of evidence from academic, industry and NGO experts on the benefits of existing IPR schemes in other countries and theoretical approaches to see how IPR would best fit into the UK context.

One idea mooted is a design for recycling and reuse (DfRR) weighting mechanism whereby an increase or decrease in obligated tonnages for WEEE producers is applied based on the actual cost of treatment and characteristics of products placed on the market.

According to Kuss-Tenzer, this tool would be a great starting point for embracing IPR as it takes into account key design features such as materials used and ease of end-of-life disassembly.

She cited TVs as an example, some of which contain mercury and incur a higher cost of recycling - with this weighting mechanism, manufacturers could be incentivised accordingly to keep recovery costs down.

"Rather than impose a financial penalty, it would be based on obligated tonnages. This would be quite easy for producer compliance schemes to implement as they currently assign these tonnages between their members," she explained.

Another measure being called for is a return share system based on brand sampling of WEEE with the subsequent collection and recovery costs based on own brand arisings.

However if this came into effect it would have to be in the form of a voluntary agreement as under the WEEE recast there is no legal requirement for products to carry branding - a move which Kuss-Tenzer cites as "frustrating" as it counters IPR aspirations.


IT repair specialist voices concern over recast targets

Comtek, the IT and telecoms repair company, has hit out at revamped collection and recovery targets under the directive's recast.

Comtek's CEO Askar Sheibani said he was sceptical that the "huge targets" due to be imposed from 2016 could be met in the absence of clear guidance.

"While efforts to increase reuse, repair, and recovery are admirable, there seems to have been little appreciation for how the guidance fits in with other laws - something member states will have to figure out during the next 18 months," he said.

Sheibani pointed to legislation such as The European Trademark law, which has been under scrutiny in terms of how it applies to repaired and second hand goods. This, he said, could cause "green-thinkers to run into trouble" as they set about putting the directive into practice across the EU.

He added: "With such an extensive decree on what needs to be achieved, the EU has provided few tools and barely any guidance. It has also left member states just shy of four years to implement such a demanding directive into law, produce a workable strategy, and to reach the targets."


Maxine Perella


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