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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2003, MCB UP Limited
The EU Directive on waste electric and electronic equipment
The WEEE Directive was ratified by the European Parliament and Council in December 2002. By the time this issue of Work Study hits your desk, it should have been published in the Official Journal of the European Communities imminently. Once published, the clock starts ticking for member states – they have 18 months from the publication date to transpose the directive into national law.
The UK entered the final negotiations with the clear objectives of ensuring that:
the financing arrangements for producer responsibility remained flexible;
separation of WEEE from household waste by consumers would be encouraged but not made compulsory; and
the recovery and recycling targets would not be raised and that the time limited derogation for very small firms from the producer responsibility financing requirements, would remain.
In the end, all but the last of these goals was achieved and The UK government feels strongly that the Directive is "a good result", largely because of these negotiations.
The proposed amendment to require consumers to separate WEEE from household waste was of particular importance to local authorities – had it gone through, all of the waste equipment would have had to have been separately collected, treated and recycled. Not only would there have been problems with enforcement, but there would probably have been a need for compulsory separate kerbside collections for WEEE from every household in the UK.
Since the Directive stipulates that producer responsibility only covers the cost of collection, treatment and recovery once the goods have been deposited at a central site, this could have resulted in a huge burden on the public purse, as well as on the collection and recycling infrastructures, without any analysis of the environmental benefits. Under the agreed text, however, consumers are to be encouraged to do the right thing with their WEEE voluntarily.
Collection systems will still have to be in place one year after the UK regulations enter into force and it is suggested that the new routes, through retailers and possibly manufacturers, will be complemented by developments to the existing infrastructure, wherever possible.
There are many opportunities for local authorities to work in partnership with others, such as retailers and re-use organisations. Local authorities should not lose sight of the fact that the recycling totals for WEEE might be counted towards their overall recycling targets; neither should they be concerned that the WEEE Directive will impose significant new costs on them. In fact, it is likely that, as producers will be paying to collect, treat and recycle separately collected WEEE from central collection sites (such as Civic Amenity sites), costs could fall.
The WEEE Directive should be up and running in the UK in 2004, with the majority of the requirements being introduced a year later.
The UK government is consulting with all stakeholders before drafting the implementing legislation; after this, the government expects stakeholders to finalise their preparations for meeting their obligations.
The government is keen to further develop the already good dialogue with local authorities on WEEE. There will certainly be significant consultation. The WEEE Directive poses a major challenge and fundamentally changes the way this kind of waste is handled, but, of course, there are clear environmental benefits in the new arrangements. That is the whole point of the Directive.