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Collective Responsibility

As the British Retail Consortium (BRC) delays finding a service provider for its waste electronics compliance scheme, electroscrap stakeholders must not only be wondering if the UK will ever be fully prepared for Augusts implementation of the WEEE Directive but what exactly it is they are working towards.

According to the Environment Agency, each year the UK discards at least one million tonnes of WEEE from commercial and domestic sources, and it is estimated that this waste stream is growing 48% each year.

And as part of the law, retailers must do their bit to help recycle this waste stream.

Despite having received expressions of interest from organisations keen to be involved in the development of a retail compliance scheme, the BRC has stated that it will not do any more towards finding a service provider until the Government produces more detail on its proposed clearing house. We are trying to take a logical approach to this, says Nigel Smith, BRC director of corporate responsibility, and are now waiting for draft guidance from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which will emerge over the next two to three weeks.

According to Smith, the BRC has received around 15 responses. We set out a broad remit and were pleased with the variety of responses, he continues. But to go to the next stage we need more detail on how the retail compliance scheme and the clearing house will interact. We have an understanding with DEFRA and the DTI but we need the next round of meetings to work through the details and ensure that each side is happy.

The proposed clearing house, which would be funded by producers, may operate as a call centre to coordinate the collection of WEEE from civic amenity and designated collection sites for allocation to treatment sites.

Under the WEEE Directive retailers are obliged to takeback waste equipment when replacing it on a like-for-like basis. The Governments consultation document on WEEE, which sets out its proposals for implementation of the directive, states that retailers can meet their takeback obligations either by offering in-store takeback or by joining a retail sector compliance scheme with collective collection responsibilities which would accept all WEEE, not just on a like-for-like basis.

The BRCs compliance scheme is designed to offer an alternative to in-store takeback, which Smith says not only raises health and safety issues but could be costly, inefficient and a burden on businesses whose priority is not waste management. The compliance scheme, which must not pose any more difficulty than in-store takeback, would involve setting up collection points; the clearing house would then allocate who collects from the collection points. However, the details of how this would work have not been decided upon.


According to the Government, the majority of those who responded to the consultation appeared to support the idea of a retailer compliance scheme. Despite this, no collection targets have been set and Smith says that his brief is simply to establish an adequate collection structure. However, just what adequate entails is yet to be defined. In addition, compliance with the directive simply requires a system to be in place by August next year.

While retailers are keen for draft regulations to be published so that they can confirm their obligations, several large electronics chains already operate an established takeback service. The BRC says that it is important that the Government ensures sufficient flexibility to recognise any exiting activity, a sentiment firmly echoed by The Dixons Group, which is recycling, among other things, half a million domestic appliances and quarter of a million mobile phones each year. This system works well for us and for our customers, says a Dixons spokesman. We are keen that it is not tampered with but protected by regulations that are flexible enough to include what we are doing.

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