European Parliament set to vote on tougher electro-scrap proposals

Every manufacturer of electrical or electronic equipment would be individually responsible for financing “take-back” schemes for discarded electrical and electronic equipment, and would be prevented from installing ‘clever chip’ devices to restrict recycling, under the latest EU Environment Committee version of the draft European directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

This represents “a determined bid to toughen up the latest version of the directive” says the Committee, against a background of escalating electro-scrap reported to be growing at a rate of 3-5% year, since 1998 when, according to official records, the level was six million tonnes. A major aim is to encourage all manufacturers to design eco-friendly products.

Despite the European Council’s earlier rejection of mandatory individual responsibility, in favour of offering producers the option of collective schemes, the Committee is shifting pressure back onto individual producers. This is one of 80 amendments to the Council’s position on the WEEE directive and the related Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (RoHS) contained within a “codecision” report which was unanimously adopted by the Committee on 21 March. Many of the amendments have been re-instated from original proposals, but they were passed on very small majorities which could prove difficult to muster the 314 votes needed for the full Parliament’s second reading in April.

‘Orphans’ and historical scrap

In a measure to tackle the problems of ‘orphan products’ produced by companies who have left the market, the Committee is proposing that Member States be required to ensure that all producers have bonded guarantees in place to cover the future disposal costs of their products. The Council has already inserted a new clause in its draft requiring producers who are in the market at the time to share the costs of dealing with these ‘orphan products’.

On the question of ‘historical waste’, the committee is calling for producers to share the cost according to their market share, rather than according to ‘one or more schemes’ as proposed by the Council. The committee allows some dispensations – lasting a maximum of 10 years – permitting Member States to retain other financing arrangements already in place and to allow producers to display the costs of disposing of historical waste at the point of sale of new products – the so-called visible fee. However, it deleted the Council’s five-year derogation from the new directive for small firms, an example of which is in the UK, where the Government has launched a programme to inform small firms of their potential new responsibilities (see related story). A new exemption inserted by the Council for military equipment was left intact but only by two votes.

Higher household target

An overwhelming majority of the committee (40 votes to 10) supported an amendment banning consumers from discarding electrical and electronic waste with ordinary household rubbish and setting a mandatory collection target of 6kg of electro-scrap per head, per year, for each household. The committee wants to back this up with inspection and monitoring facilities and the possibility of penalties for flouting the rules. The target must, says the committee, be achieved by 31 December 2005. The Council has set a voluntary target of only 4kg a year – a quarter of the average amount discarded by consumers each year – to be met within the vaguer ‘thirty-six months’ of entry into force of the directive.

Higher recycling rates

Targets for recovery, re-use and recycling have been raised by 10% from the Council’s rates for most types of equipment. The Committee also wants ozone-depleting gases to be removed from all equipment, and the introduction of a minimum 5% recycling requirement for the plastic components of the discarded products. Other amendments tighten up the provisions on information for users about the new rules and require products to be marked to show that they must not be binned.

RoHS measures to begin earlier

In the case of the RoHS directive, the Committee unanimously voted to bring forward to 1 January 2006, the date for phasing out heavy metals and flame-retardants. Exemptions would be allowed where safer alternatives are not available and for spare parts placed on the market before the ban enters into force.

ORGALIME, the European trade body representing electrical and electronic manufacturers has estimated that it will cost €40 billion to deal with the historical waste assuming that the WEEE directive is delayed until 2005. It also estimates that €15 billion in new investment will be required to deal with required technological changes, plus €7.5 billion per year as running costs for the take back schemes.

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