European Parliament determined that producers be responsible for electronic waste

The European Parliament has voted in its second reading of the draft European directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) to pass a series of amendments that considerably tighten its requirements and are almost certain to provoke a conciliation procedure with the European Council.

Among the changes designed to further toughen the directive at its second reading, the Parliament demanded an average compulsory collection target of 6kg of electro-scrap per person per year from private households by 2005. The draft position from the European Council had set a voluntary target of just 4kg a year, to be met within a vaguer ‘36 months’ of the directive entering into force (see related story).

Parliament has also announced its determination to ban consumers from throwing electro-scrap in the bin with unsorted waste, and to make individual producers finance the recycling or safe disposal of electro-scrap as proposed by the EU Environment Committee, many of whose proposals are reflected in the Parliamentary amendments.

MEPs are asking for Member States to be made to prove that their collection target has been reached, and are voting to back their proposed ban on binning electro-scrap with inspection and monitoring facilities. However, they refused to back a move to introduce penalties for consumers who do not sort their electro-scrap.

Electro-scrap is growing at the rate of six million tonnes – some 3-5% – annually and is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU.

Parliament is also repeating its first-reading demand that individual producers be made to bear the costs of managing waste from their products. However, they propose a derogation to allow member states to use collective financing schemes providing they can prove that individual ones would be disproportionately costly. It also voted to allow member states to retain separate financing schemes that had already been introduced. This runs counter to the Council proposal for a straight choice between collective and individual schemes.

The Parliament also voted overwhelmingly to require member states to compel electronic goods manufacturers to provide up-front guarantees of the financing for future disposal of their products. This move is aimed at discouraging irresponsible producers from putting environmentally damaging goods on the market and then disappearing, leaving other producers to pick up the bill.

The Council has included a clause in its draft, requiring producers in the market at the time to share the costs of dealing with such ‘orphan products’, but Parliament has amended this to specify that the guarantee can take the form of recycling insurance, a blocked bank account or a contribution to a joint scheme for financing electro-scrap management.

Parliament has agreed with the Council on the contentious subject of ‘historical waste’, that the costs of dealing with scrap from products on the market before the legislation comes into force, including those from untraceable manufacturers, should be shared among producers. Unlike the Council, which wants producers to contribute proportionally under one or more schemes to these costs, Parliament takes the Environment Committee line that costs must be split according to market share by type of equipment. It voted for a maximum ten-year transition period, in which producers can, if they wish, display the costs of disposing of historical waste at the point of sale of new products, the so-called ‘visible fee’. ORGALIME, the European trade body for electrical and electronic goods manufacturers, has estimated that it will cost €40 billion to deal with this historical waste.

MEPs also voted to prevent the installation of ‘clever chips’, which are designed to prevent recycling. They also took out the Council’s proposed five-year derogation from the directive for small firms on the grounds that it would not help them, could lead to job losses, and would distort competition.

Targets for recovering large household appliances such as fridges and washing machines have been raised to 90% from the Council’s proposed 80%, although the re-use and recycling target remains at 65%. Parliament has, however, asked for the directive to be brought forward to the end of 2005 rather than the Council’s proposal of 46 months after the directive becomes law.

Recovery targets for smaller items such as PCs, phones, radios and hi-fi equipment were raised to 85% from 75%, although, once more, the re-use and recycling target was left at 65%. Again, the deadline is proposed as the end of 2005 rather than 46 months following the directive’s entry into legislation.

Parliament also wants ozone-depleting gases to be removed from all equipment containing them, not just fridges and freezers. Other amendments toughen provisions on information for users about the new rules and require that products be marked to show they must not be binned.

Parliament also adopted amendments on the related directive restricting hazardous substances used in the manufacture of electronic and electrical products (RoHS), bringing forward the date for phasing out heavy metals and flame retardants to 1 January 2006.

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