In a two-day action-packed meeting on 7-8 June, new rules were agreed on electronic waste, some targets for the EU’s much criticised 10-year plan for the environment (see related story) were agreed and the EC’s much-vaunted new chemicals policy (see related story) got the go-ahead.

EC proposals for Directives on waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances (RoHS) in electrical and electronic equipment (see related story) were adopted. The WEEE directive establishes the principle of shared responsibility between member states, distributors and producers, with governments responsible for setting up collection systems and distributors having to take back used equipment free of charge. The producers will be responsible for the recovery and recycling of the products.

The following deadlines were established from the date of entry into force:

  • 30 months for the setting up of collections facilities. However, companies with less than ten employees and a turnover of under two million euros (£1.2 million) will be allowed a further 30 months;
  • 30 months for setting up a financing system;
  • 36 months for reaching the collection target of 4 kilos/person/year; and
  • 46 months for reaching recovery and recycling targets of 75% for large household appliances, 65% for information technology and consumer electronics, and 50% for most other products with Ireland and Greece having 24 extra months for compliance.

In order to prevent the generation of hazardous waste, the Council also decided on the substitution of various heavy metals and two types of brominated flame retardants in new electrical and electronic equipment from 1 January 2007 onwards. To prevent hazardous substances contaminating recycled products, various components including batteries, cathode ray tubes, mobile phone circuit boards, fluorinated hydrocarbons, external electrical cables and plastics containing brominated flame retardants will also have to be separated from waste for special treatment.

Not as much concrete action on the 10-year environmental action programme was achieved as had been hoped but a few targets, albeit vague, have been agreed, which had been missing from the original document. Kyoto targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be adhered to, with renewables being increased “substantially and continually” and biodiversity decline is to be halted by 2010. Specific targets for waste generation will be proposed by the end of 2002. The most ambitious target set was that by 2020 chemicals should only be produced and used in ways that “do not lead to significant negative impact on health and the environment” and on pesticides a “significant overall reduction in the risks and use” was agreed.

The adoption of the EU’s Chemicals Strategy derived from the EC’s proposed White Paper has established a strict single system for new and existing chemicals, requiring registration and evaluation of all chemicals and authorisation for substances of very high concern. The Council called for the EC to propose legislation on the document before the end of the year.

Ministers also adopted an EC Directive on public access to environmental information (see related story) which aims to ensure participation by citizens and NGOs in environmental decision making and to encourage active dissemination of information to the public, but rejected amendments made by Parliament earlier this year (see related story).

The Council also agreed to adopt a proposal on the presence of dangerous or hazardous substances in waters that pose a major threat to the aquatic environment and to humans, identifying 32 priority substances for which proposals for quality standards and emission controls will be proposed (see related story). The proposal aims at progressive reduction and a phase out for hazardous substances.

Ministers also adopted limit values for emissions resulting from ‘cold starts’ – the period immediately after engine ignition – from lorries and light-duty buses, putting emission values for hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide which affect air quality in urban areas.

“The Council has taken a record number of decisions, and I am especially glad for the decision on the Sixth Environmental Action Programme, the conclusions on the Chemicals Strategy and the adoption of the Directive on Electric and Electronic Waste,” EC Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström commented after the meeting.

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