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WEEE collection rate concern

AT A GLANCE:

Proposed amendments to the WEEE directive look likely to be agreed later this year, but concerns are still being raised about proposals to change collection targets and the low collection rate across Europe

The waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) recast process has moved up a gear now that theRestriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2008 (RoHS) recast has been completed. There has been an upsurge in the number of meetings between EU member state officials to refine the proposals.

The plenary session of the European Parliament is scheduled to take place during the first week of February to vote on the proposed amendments to the WEEE Directive. While it could be adopted at this stage on a first reading, this is seen as highly unlikely and it is more likely to be agreed later in the year.

The two main issues being hotly debated at present are the proposed changes to collection targets for WEEE and the concern over what is seen as the low collection rate across Europe.

In order to increase collection rates, it has been proposed that a target of 65% of WEEE by weight is set, based on the amount of new electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) placed on the market. This would replace the current 4kg minimum per person per year. One of the potential issues with basing the collection target on EEE sold is that it does not take into account factors such as different market maturity, technology change, consumer behaviour and changes in weight of products being sold compared with that of those thrown away.

But there are concerns with this proposal. All stakeholders want to maximise the amount of WEEE that isseparately collected, but most think that 65% based on EEE is too high.

Many stakeholder groups are now leaning towards a new target based of 85% of the WEEE generated in each member state, and preferably tobase this percentage on retrospective data for each country.

This would ensure that each member state had a known starting point, each would know at the start of each year how much WEEE it had to collect and it could include a mechanism to increase the target each year. Ifthe system were to be based on anything other than actual past performance, it would risk setting targets too high or too low.

These two proposals, whether basing targets on EEE or WEEE, are likely to equate to similar targets in terms of tonnage. There is a concern at present over the relatively low collection rates of WEEE across Europe. The industry believes the problem actually comes from low counting rates rather than low collection rates - meaning that countries simply fail to count WEEE going through routes other than the producer compliance schemes (PCSs), for example third party collectors.

It is hoped that following the recast, both voluntary and mandatory standards for all organisations handling WEEE will be introduced and this will help to increase the rate of recycling by including, for counting purposes, the WEEE handled by everyone and not just PCSs.

Only about a third of the WEEE generated in Europe goes through official PCSs, so any target needs to remain a member state one and should include WEEE handled by everyone. The speed of progress on the directive recast is determined by many factors, including the level of agreement that can be reached. Latest sentiments indicate that it could be in place by the end of 2011 and appear in the Official Journal by Easter 2012.

Member states will then have time, 18 months if it mirrors the original directive, to transpose it into national law. But it is important to point out that any perceived ‘delay’ is not having any adverse operational impact across Europe.

Dr Philip Morton is chief executive of compliance scheme REPIC

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