Implementation of the WEEE Directive in the UK

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive was published on 13 February 2003. The UK and other Member States of the EU have until 13 August 2004 to transpose the Directive into national legislation. Here, Adrian Harding, Environment Agency Policy Advisor on Producer Responsibility outlines how this will effect your business.

At an EU level, waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) has been identified as a Priority Waste Stream. There are three reasons for this:

At least (and probably considerably more than) one million tonnes of WEEE from domestic and commercial sources is discarded in the UK every year. Various studies have indicated that this waste stream may grow by as much as 4 – 8% a year.

Although the UK and other Member States of the EU have until 13 August 2004 to transpose the WEEE Directive into national legislation, very little is likely to change on that date. Most of the requirements are expected to come into force during 2005 and 2006.

Amongst other things, the WEEE Directive encourages and sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of WEEE. It makes producers responsible for financing most of these activities (‘producer responsibility’). Although most Member States adopted a producer responsibility response to the Packaging Directive, the WEEE Directive is the first to explicitly make producers responsible for the costs of treating and recycling end-of-life products.

Private householders are to be able (but not compelled) to return WEEE to retailers on a ‘one-for-one’ basis without charge. Retailers will be allowed to establish alternative collection systems so long as these are no less convenient for householders. There are targets for recycling and recovery of materials and components from the separately collected waste.

There are separate provisions for WEEE from business users.

Sites where WEEE is treated will require a permit. Defra’s on-going Waste Permitting Review is expected to give rise to a new permitting regime that will be applied in the first instance to sites storing or treating WEEE. A consultation on the Waste Permitting Review is expected during early summer this year.

A related Directive, the Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Directive (2002/95/EC) must also be transposed by 13 August 2004.

The RoHS Directive will restrict the use of various hazardous substances in new EEE. From July 2006, the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, poly-brominated biphenyls (PBBs) and poly-brominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) will be restricted in new products. PBBs and PBDEs are flame retardants used in plastics.

The Directive provides a small number of exemptions where the use of these materials above the threshold limits will be allowed to continue in certain applications until alternatives are found. The EU has recently launched a consultation on the possible amendment of the list of exempted applications – written comments are sought by 5 July this year. Products which fail to meet the requirements of the RoHS Directive by July 2006 may be banned from sale throughout the EU!

The WEEE and RoHS Directives cover a very wide range of electrical and electronic products, although some are exempt from certain requirements. The 10 categories covered are:

  • large and small household appliances;
  • IT and telecommunication equipment;
  • consumer equipment (e.g.TVs, video, hi-fi, etc);
  • lighting,
  • electrical and electronic tools (with the exception of large stationary industrial tools);
  • toys,
  • leisure and sports equipment,
  • medical devices (exempt from RoHS and re-use and recovery targets under WEEE);
  • monitoring and control instruments (exempt from RoHS); and
  • automatic dispensers.

Both Directives will help reduce the environmental impact of WEEE and contribute to the UK’s sustainable development agenda. Any business that manufactures, brands or imports electrical or electronic products within the EU will be affected. Those businesses that sell electrical items or store, treat or dismantle WEEE will also be affected by this legislation.

The implementation of the WEEE Directive presents a significant challenge given that:

  • The scope of the Directive remains unclear at the margins;
  • There is no de minimis exemption for producers or retailers; and
  • A very large number of companies that will need to register and make appropriate contributions – probably an order of magnitude greater than under the Packaging Regulations.

The Environment Agency expects to have a significant role in monitoring and promoting compliance with WEEE legislation in England and Wales. Consequently, we are working closely with Government departments, Devolved Administrations and other stakeholders to identify practical, proportionate and effective implementation options.

It seems a reasonable assumption that compliance will be assisted where affected businesses are made aware of their obligations, the registration process is straightforward and the costs of compliance are reasonable. The existence of appropriate sanctions and a belief that they will be used will form an essential part of the overall package – the Agency is keen to ensure that its regulatory responsibilities will be adequately funded. Although enforcement is not an end in itself, it is a means of promoting compliance, which in turn leads to a more equitable sharing of the costs of securing the desired environmental benefits.

The Government and the Devolved Administrations issued a Discussion Paper on 28 March 2003, which outlined the requirements of both the WEEE and RoHS Directives and sought views as to how the various provisions could best be met in the UK.

A more detailed Consultation Paper was issued in November 2003; this Paper explained the possible role for a Clearing House, detailed the means by which retailers might discharge their ‘take back’ requirements and anticipated the emergence of separate retailer and producer compliance schemes. The consultation process was supported by a UK-wide programme of free seminars.

A final Consultation Paper and draft Regulations are expected early this summer. WEEE treatment guidance will also be issued for consultation around the same time. Further seminars, aimed at the electrical and electronics industry, are being organised by Envirowise.

This article is based on the author’s current understanding of the legislative requirements and the implementation timetable, which may be subject to change.

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