How to comply

Under the WEEE Directive, local authorities will not pay to recycle electrical equipment, and will get additional funding from retailers. Steve Gough outlines the implications

The DTI is scheduled to publish the UK’s long-awaited Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive by the end of 2005 (see diagram, page 31) and preparations are under way to finalise the retail element of the legislation.

Under recently announced plans, the British Retail Consortium’s (BRC) Retail Compliance Scheme (RCS) will be operated by environmental-compliance organisation

Valpak and provide full WEEE compliance to retailer members. According to the directive, retailers will have two options. They can either take back products in-store on a one-to-one and like-for-like basis, and arrange for the material to be transported to bulking centres, or they can join the RCS.

The scheme will take on their obligation and be responsible for developing a network of designated collection facilities (DCFs), negating the requirement to take back in-store. Once material is collected at DCFs or bulking centres, it becomes the responsibility of WEEE producers to foot the bill for transport and recycling.

Valpak and the BRC, with the assistance of local authorities, are currently working on the specifics of the scheme to ensure a solution meets the needs of all parties, as well as the environmental aims of the directive.

According to the draft UK WEEE regulations, the RCS will be expected to:

  • Develop an infrastructure of take-back facilities
  • Provide funding to support the development of WEEE collection facilities at civic amenity sites
  • Assist local authorities in decision making on offering their civic amenity sites as DCFs
  • Provide plans for complementary WEEE collection services
  • Maintain records of its membership, and report these to the agencies where required
  • Take steps to ensure proportionate treatment of small retailers wanting to join the RCS, including those whose main business is not electronics
  • Make information on WEEE collection publicly available

    The retailer perspective

    For retailers, going it alone to achieve WEEE compliance has always caused a headache. The health and safety implications of requiring employees to handle potentially damaged, bulky and hazardous electrical equipment are troublesome – even before you consider the need to obtain a waste licence, wade through government red tape, and provide storage and transport of materials to bulking centres.

    The RCS is being developed to give retailers a compliance solution which is more convenient, more cost-effective and, as a recognised national scheme, offers corporate social responsibility benefits. Members will have the security of knowing they are fully WEEE compliant without the need to become embroiled in the minutiae of the directive. It is also hoped that, by making compliance quick and easy, WEEE free-riding can be minimised.

    The RCS will encompass both large and a significant number of smaller retailers – the BRC has already identified over 75,000 potentially obligated businesses. In their work to formulate the terms of the RCS, Valpak and the BRC have identified five retailer categories:

  • Type 1: Retail chains where the primary function is the sale of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE)
  • Type 2: Independent stores where the primary function is the sale of EEE
  • Type 3: Retail chains or large stores with specialist

    EEE departments, but the primary function is not just the sale of EEE
  • Type 4: Retail chains without specialist EEE departments, and their primary business is not the sale of EEE
  • Type 5: Small/independent retailers whose primary function is not the sale of EEE

    To ensure charges are fair, Valpak has proposed that retailers will be banded by turnover of electrical equipment. Where businesses are just over the banding threshold, the fee should be such that they do not benefit financially from under-declaring their likely returns.

    For the largest companies (predominately types 1 and 3 above), it is likely that fees will be based on market share, while an initial sliding fixed-fee structure is being developed for smaller retailers.

    The registration fee will ensure members are WEEE compliant for three years, and be used to assist local authority sites in meeting the standards required to become a DCF. The RCS is not-for-profit and any funds remaining after three years will be redistributed to members.

    Local authority involvement

    A major element of the RCS will be developing this adequate network of DCFs, and both Valpak and the BRC believe local authority civic amenity sites have a vital role to play. The RCS registration fund will make £6.2 million available to participating local authorities.

    With an estimated 1,070 locations throughout the country, civic amenity sites are ideally positioned to form the collection infrastructure needed to implement the WEEE Directive.

    Local authorities that choose to develop DCF status will be in line for a number of benefits. Those local authorities that register their sites as DCFs will no longer need to arrange or pay for the recycling of items such as televisions or fridges because this will fall under the remit of WEEE producers.

    It is estimated that this could represent a saving of around £750,000 a year per local authority, while increasing the recycling rate on equipment already being collected, and offering collections and recycling for new streams of WEEE at no cost to local authorities. Valpak has also been assured that local authorities will still be able to count all WEEE recycled at producers’ cost towards their recycling targets.

    Conversely, Defra has said: “In the case of electrical items arising from civic amenity sites that are not registered as DCFs, these will be considered to be WEEE and have to be treated in accordance with the WEEE regulations at the local authorites’ cost.”

    As operator of the BRC RCS, Valpak will also be responsible for distributing retailers’ contributions in the form of a registered network provision fund for local authorities to spend as they see fit on developing WEEE collection facilities at civic amenity sites. A maintenance fund will also be administered over the next three years. All local authorities are eligible to apply for funding for each existing site.

    The bottom line

    It is very important for electrical retailers to be aware of WEEE and prepared for the impact it will have on their businesses. In many ways, the delays that plagued the development of this legislation have made it easier for affected companies to assume the problem will go away. But it will not be long before they find themselves in trouble.

    The best way for retailers to deal effectively with the directive is for them to be ready. By developing the RCS, the BRC aims to put a system in place that will make WEEE compliance as easy, cost-effective and hassle-free as possible for all types and sizes of retailer.

    Steve Gough is CEO of Valpak. For more information visit or call 08450 682 572

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