This article is part of our special report Raw Materials.
The European Parliament backed new targets for collecting and recycling electronic waste yesterday (3 February), but said producers alone could not be left to cover the cost of collecting e-waste from private households.
A report drafted by German MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz (European People's Party) was adopted by a large majority– 580 votes to 37 with 22 abstentions.
Scope, collection target, cost
First, the lawmakers voted to broaden the scope of EU e-waste law by bringing all types of electrical and electronic equipment under the scope of the rules, except for listed exceptions, such as large installations and tools, military equipment and vehicles.
Second, they voted for a collection target of 85% of all electronic waste produced as from 2016, and said member states should be responsible for achieving the collection target rather than producers themselves. The Commission's original proposal suggested a target of 65% of the average weight of electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market over the two previous years.
Lawmakers adopted, by a narrow margin, a Socialist proposal to split the costs of collecting e-waste from households between consumers, manufacturers and retailers.
Currently the collection is paid for by local authorities. The Commission's original proposal suggested that member states should encourage producers to finance the costs of separate collection from private households – in a drive to shift the costs of WEEE collection from taxpayers to consumers of electronic equipment (via producers) to bring financing in line with the "polluter pays" principle set out in the EU Treaties.
The House also backed a 50-75% recycling target (depending on category) and supported a new 5% re-use goal, which the Commission suggested. The current WEEE Directive has no targets for the re-use of whole appliances.
Finally, MEPs said that consumers should also be able to return very small electronic equipment waste items to retailers.
Fighting illegal exports
The Parliament also supported the Commission proposals for stricter inspections of electronic waste shipments to curb illegal exports of e-waste.
Although only reusable electronic goods may be exported, large amounts of waste are exported illegally to developing countries, where poor treatment can have serious health and environmental consequences.
The lawmakers said that the revamped directive should make sure exporters carry the burden of proof that goods are reusable.
In order to reduce administrative costs and unnecessary administrative burdens for the producers, the Parliament backed a Commission proposal to harmonise national registration and reporting obligations for producers. The registers should be inter-operational, it said.
Having a one-stop-shop for registering products would also prevent the situation whereby registration fees are levied more than once, placing a recurring burden on producers.
Member states in search of a common approach
It is now the turn of EU member states in the Council of Ministers to consider the Parliament's position ahead of a possible second reading on the e-waste law. Environment ministers will discuss the matter next month, and try to find a common position.
A Council progress report on the dossier, dated December 2010, indicates that discussions between member states continue on collection modalities, the level of the targets as well as on which equipment the revised law should cover.
The Parliament's draftsman, German MEP Florenz, regretted that "the Council has not moved very much up to now". He said the strongest opposition in the Council came from authorities made up of national experts who leave ministers unable to speed up discussions.
However, he said that Germany, together with some other countries keen to improve e-waste recycling, was now "going to move forward very aggressively" to push through an agreement.
Florenz expects opposition to the open scope of the directive. He believes there is also room for disagreement over who should pay for collecting e-waste from people's doorsteps and deliver it to a recycling depot.