WEEE don’t want it – councils threaten to opt out of e-waste collections

Producer responsibility is in danger of translating into 'the tax payer foots the bill' according to local authorities concerned that the settlement they are being offered to collect and process electronic waste will leave them out of pocket.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has expressed doubts over the implementation of the WEEE directive which, from next July, will see manufacturers and retailers assuming responsibility for the environmentally-friendly disposal of their electronic and electrical goods.

According to the LGA, authorities have been offered a one-off payment by retailers to upgrade existing recycling facilities of just £6,500 per site and, says the association, this will be a drop in the ocean when totalling the full expense of the scheme.

“The idea is that business should be paying for this scheme,” a spokesman for the LGA told edie.

“But at the moment what they’re not offering us any money on a rolling basis. This is going to cost us £9 million a year and at the moment none of that money is being put forward by business, so we don’t really think the producers are paying.”

He said councils would wash their hands of WEEE processing if they didn’t get a more realistic settlement.

“It’s a choice, councils don’t have to get involved in it,” he said.

“Decisions will be made on a local level and if the cost is too much, they won’t do it.”

The LGA has illustrated its point by claiming television mountains could become the new fridge mountains once the WEEE regulations kick in.

Councils have been placed in an impossible situation, says the association, and they are not prepared to be made into scapegoats by increasing council tax to pay for e-waste processing.

Cllr Paul Bettison, chairman of the LGA’s environment board, said: “It’s totally unacceptable that the council taxpayer should be expected to shoulder the burden for new schemes that businesses should be paying for.

“Retailers are holding the whole process to ransom. Unless they are willing to contribute more to councils’ costs, then it’s possible that many town halls simply won’t be able to afford to get involved.

“We risk a situation similar to that of the fridge mountains a few years ago unless more money is invested by business. Without councils’ involvement and their recycling centres there’s little chance of the new system working.

“The memory of thousands of fridges piling up from a few years ago is still fresh in many people’s minds. From July next year, a whole range of electrical appliances will need to be recycled in a similar way.

“The fear is that unless councils are fully involved we could be risking a situation where hundreds of thousands of TVs, mobile phones and kettles end up being piled high once again.

“Not only would this be an eyesore, the environmental impact could be deeply worrying too. Electrical goods often contain poisonous substances, such as lead, which can contaminate drinking water and mercury which can cause damage to the brain.

“Councils are on the frontline in the fight against climate change and it makes perfect sense for businesses to make use of existing refuse and recycling centres around the country. Local authorities have the experience, expertise and resources. However, councils won’t take part if they have to foot the bill. The law makes clear that it must be the producer that pays.”

The spokesman told edie that the LGA would be applying whatever pressure it could on Government and business to ensure that the directive did what it set out to do and that those who profited from the sale of the goods paid for their disposal.

Sam Bond

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