The WEEE Directive – Dispelling the myths one year on

The WEEE Directive has brought with it challenges, speculation and pressure. Dr Philip Morton, chief executive of not-for-profit Producer Compliance Scheme REPIC, discusses the difficult initial period, the outcomes of the first year and what the future holds for the collection of WEEE in the UK.

On July 1, 2007, local authorities prepared themselves for the introduction of the WEEE Directive. At first glance, the process for local authorities appeared to be fairly simple – sign up to be a Designated Collection Facility (DCF) and then select a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) to collect the waste from each of the sites.

However, despite this initial perception of a straightforward scheme, concerns of a potentially difficult bedding-in period began to emerge. Over one year on from the introduction of the Directive, it is fair to say that these concerns were warranted.

First Year Outcomes

The first compliance period of the WEEE Directive brought with it some positive milestones, including confirmation that most councils in the UK had signed up to a PCS. The target collection weight of 4kg of WEEE per head was also beaten, with the latest statistics showing a UK achievement of 6kg per head.

However, despite the positive achievements, the first compliance period was also littered with a number of challenges, including:

  • The derailment of the WEEE allocation centre – designed to match Local Authorities wth PCSs
  • Complicated evidence procedures
  • Inaccurate data collection for both WEEE and eWEEE
  • Over-collection by PCS schemes – creating an imbalance within the industry
  • The story for retailers and producers

    Throughout the initial bedding-in period, retailers felt very little impact. All major electrical retailers other than DSGi elected to join the producer take-back scheme, where customers were encouraged to take their WEEE to a local upgraded DCF site. On the flip side, Dixons opted out of this scheme, encouraging customers to take their WEEE back to the store. This alternative worked very well and PCSs are now looking to encourage greater retailer involvement in this process.

    Overall, it was the producers who felt the pinch when it came to WEEE. The additional impact on costs caused by the WEEE Directive came at precisely the wrong time. Coupled with the increases in transport, oil, energy and exchange rates, WEEE simply squeezed already slim margins even further.

    Where are we now?

    The next stage of the WEEE journey will be very much a transition period. The Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has issued all PCSs with clarification on Schedule Seven of the WEEE Regulations, which outlines that the operator of the proposed scheme must have viable plans to collect the amount of WEEE equivalent to the amount of WEEE for which it will be responsible for financing.

    Consequently, a number of councils are now looking to renew the existing short term contracts they initially set up.

    The key thing to remember is that the control point is still with PCS providers. These schemes should not be contracting with local authorities, once they have already met their WEEE tonnage requirement. Local authorities are therefore looking for clearer guidelines on how to appoint and work with alternative producer schemes. A simple guide is population. For every 1% overall market share a PCS has, it needs DCFs covering about 1% of the population. Councils just need to ask their current PCS what their shares are.

    Currently, the future holds a “partnership” approach in dealing with WEEE in the UK. It will be a “managed process” with support from Government and existing PCS providers. A new consultation on the WEEE Directive is also due to take place in the spring of 2009, with new regulations taking effect from 2010.

    REPIC (the Recycling Electrical Producers’ Industry Consortium) was established in January 2004 by leading companies in AMDEA, SEAMA and Intellect – three of the main trade associations in the electrical and electronics industry – to meet their producer obligations under the WEEE Directive. REPIC is keen to work with more local Councils to collect WEEE equivalent to its member needs.

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