Member states urged to take action on ‘e-waste’

Consumer electronic manufacturers including Sony, Nokia and HP, and NGOs ranging from Greenpeace to Friends of the Earth, have called on the Commission to take action against 11 member states that have transposed the WEEE directive without making producers fully responsible for the recycling of electrical and electronic products.

The joint statement says that although 12 member states have incorporated the provisions corresponding to Article 8.2 correctly, 11 (Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the UK) have failed to do so. 

Instead, these countries have made producers jointly responsible for the recycling of their products, with the effect that the incentive for them to improve their designs has been diminished, according to the joint statement. 

Individual producer responsibility is seen as an important means of encouraging competition between companies and, in turn, developing innovations that will reduce the environmental impact of products at the end of their life-time. This is because Article 8.2 allows producers to benefit from lower costs if they design products that are easier to recycle. 

However, under the joint-responsibility system, producers act collectively to dispose of their electrical products for recycling, meaning that companies cannot be responsible for their own individual branded product. This has raised the concern that because producers acting under joint responsibility will not be collecting equipment they placed on the market in the first place, there will be no incentive to make their products easy to recycle. 

At the same time, larger companies that do want to make products that can be recycled easily fear that the benefits of their environmentally friendly products will be enjoyed by rivals who have not implemented similar policies.

The signatories of the statement say that the failure to make producers fully responsible "jeopardises the attainment of the Directive's objectives, which means that companies will not be financially rewarded for making products easier to recycle", since "differences in national transposition cause different legal and financial exposures for the actors on the EU market".

Tom Wells of electronics manufacturer Electrolux told letsrecycle.com that, with the tight margins within the electronics sector, the costs of recycling equipment can be almost as high as a company's entire profits.

He said that designing products to be more recyclable would be a "huge competitive advantage" in the electronics market, but that under the current form of the WEEE Regulations, companies operating in the UK cannot take advantage of that. 

The Directive on Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) aims to increase the reuse, recycling and recovery of waste from a variety of consumer products ranging from light bulbs to PCs. Electrical equipment is one of the fastest- growing waste streams in the EU. 

The Directive aims to create incentives for producers to take the initiative to improve the design of their products and make them easier to recycle.

In that regard, article 8.2 of the directive requires: "That each producer provides an appropriate financial guarantee for the management of WEEE," ie the producer is fully responsible for the recycling of its products. However, it only refers to products sold after 13 August 2005; products sold before this date are known as "historical waste" and are not the subject of debate.

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