Appliance firms argue that WEEE directive needs simplifying

The fourth version of a draft directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has largely pleased industry. But a group of appliance manufacturers believes that the distinction being made between 'historic' and 'future' waste threatens the long-term viability of the directive.

The final version of the draft WEEE directive (see related story) should be adopted by the European Commission at the end of the month, after which negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers can begin.

Changes introduced to the final draft include some concessions to industry. They include:

  • a five-year delay before industry has to recycle end-of-life waste from products sold before the directive was in force (known as ‘historic’ waste)
  • the ban on lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, mercury, and some brominated flame retardants in electric and electronic goods has been postponed by four years, to 2008

Despite the concessions to manufacturers, the fact that the ban on toxic substances remains is seen as a victory for Margot Wallström’s Environment Directorate, following pressure from the Enterprise Directorate to drop the ban.

An industry split has emerged on the issue of how recycling schemes will be financed after the initial ten years. For the first ten years, manufacturers will be allowed to charge consumers a ‘visible fee’ for the eventual recycling of the product they purchase. After ten years, the EC expects industry to be able to internalise the costs and stop charging a visible fee. “We think ten years may be the right timeframe and that, by and large, industry should be able to internalise the costs by then,” Eamonn Bates, a consultant representing ten domestic appliance manufacturers, told edie.

What Bates’ clients don’t like is the EC’s plan to complicate the recycling system just after it’s up and running. After the first ten years, the EC proposes that a system for recycling ‘future’ waste (end-of-life waste from products that sold after the directive came into force) be introduced, with manufacturers responsible for the cost of only their products’ recycling. Bates believes the cost of recycling will skyrocket, as a result. “That type of marking of goods and sorting might be vaguely possible with a couple of hundred brands, but there are thousands,” says Bates.

“The domestic appliance industry has been opposed to the legal principles of retroactivity [historic waste] from the beginning, but the real world enters into this, so let’s abandon the distinction between historic and future waste,” says Bates, who wants a workable system in place from the start instead of changes half-way through.

What Bates’ clients envisage is a visible fee for 10 years, followed by continuation of recycling schemes funded by industry collectively – with manufacturers most likely siphoning off a proportion of the revenue they gain from each product sold into the recycling pot, creating an ‘invisible fee’.

Bates has no time for the argument that collective industry funding for WEEE recycling will stifle advances in eco-design. He points out that the Dutch WEEE scheme diverts 10% of the visible fee funds into eco-design research and development, and the results are available to all manufacturers.

The appliance manufacturers represented by Bates are Atag Kitchen Group, Bosch Siemens, Brandt, Candy Electrodomestici, De Longhi, Gorenje, Merloni, Miele, Philips, SEP and Whirlpool.

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