EC proposals on electric waste favour industry over environment

Despite provisions to make manufacturers responsible for the disposal of worn out electrical equipment, environmentalists have said the new regulations are a "painful compromise" between the environment and the self-interest of industry.

The proposals for Electronic and Electric Equipment (EEE) are designed to tackle the increasing amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment and to complement EU measures on landfill and incineration of waste. Increased recycling of electrical and electronic equipment is intended to limit the total quantity of waste going to final disposal.

“Due to the fast pace of technological innovation, electrical and electronic equipment constitute one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU,” explained Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström. “It is therefore particularly important to implement the key principles of EU waste management policy, especially the prevention and recycling of waste, in this area.”

However, the European Environmental Bureau’s (EEB) EU Policy Director Christian Hey called the package a “painful compromise between protection of the environment and the self-interest of powerful industries that have found an ally in DG Enterprise”. He continued: “We hope that Council and Parliament will improve the proposal leading to an effective tool to contain and reduce what is else going to be one of the most burdensome waste streams of the near future”.

The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, is intended to provide incentives to design electrical and electronic equipment in a more environmentally efficient way. The Directive addresses all electrical and electronic equipment used by consumers and currently not treated before going to incinerators or landfills. It also covers a range of professionally used electrical equipment, such as information technology and telecommunications equipment.

Electrical and electronic equipment is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the EU, constituting four percent of the municipal waste, increasing by 16-28% every five years. In addition, it is one of the largest sources of heavy metals and organic pollutants in municipal waste.

Under the proposals, member states will have to organise collection of electrical waste from private households. Producers will then collect the waste, from designated collection facilities, and channel it to certified treatment facilities. Minimum percentages of recovery of the waste will have to be achieved and actual figures should be in force by 2006, but could range between 60% and 80% depending on the product category (see related story).

In line with the polluter pays principle, producers will have to organise and finance the treatment, recovery and disposal of waste. However, the implementation of the financing obligation is to be delayed by five years to minimise the impact on producers.

The EEB was enthusiastic about the regulation’s original focus on prevention and making individual producers responsible for the entire life-cycle of its products. However, says EEB, internal Commission discussions have led to weaker and weaker drafts. For the EEB the most significant erosion of the regulations includes:

  • a five years delay in the implementation of the producer responsibility principle
  • a considerable reduction of the recycling and reuse targets
  • a low collection target
  • abolition of obligatory individual producers responsibility
  • the absence of requirements for producers to integrate environmental precautions right into the design
  • four more years delay for substitution of hazardous substances, compared with respect to the July 1999 draft

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie