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WEEE directive changes 'missed opportunity', say researchers

Current revisions to the WEEE directive will not solve the challenges of producer responsibility organisations.

A paper among a series on extended producer responsibility, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, has looked at how these organisations perform, with a case study on the European Recycling Platform.

Authors Kieren Mayers and Scott Butler said extended producer responsibility was applicable to up to 100m tonnes of waste across the EU.

While the legislation aimed to improve standards of waste treatment and recycling, and increase the quantities of waste recycled, “its main purpose is to provide producers with incentives to develop products that are easier to treat and recycle at end of life”, the paper said.

“Unfortunately individual producer responsibility for WEEE has not been implemented by the EU member states and the WEEE legislation does not define producers’ financial responsibilities specifically enough to create such incentives.”

Another problem flowed from producers being responsible for waste without owning it.

“The WEEE directive is neither sufficient, nor sufficiently enforced, to prevent waste with a positive value being diverted at collection points,” the paper said.

“Collectors still retain ownership over any waste they collect. This can be counterproductive: producers selling products that are easy to recycle (and therefore more profitable to recycle) at end of life are liable to ‘lose’ them.”

This could create instability for recycling services “as materials they are depending on to maintain prices may suddenly be diverted away”.

The researchers found that, left to their own devices, “producers and collectors are fundamentally in conflict: producers seek compliance from organisations at competitive prices, whereas collection points seek the best and most effective (and, by extension, often the most expensive) collection services”.

Producer responsibility organisations needed to operate “in an environment without unnecessary market failures and conflicts, and where their responsibilities are clearly defined, balanced and enforced,” the paper said.

“At the time of writing, it seems that the EU has missed an important opportunity to address these issues in their current review and revisions of the WEEE directive, and it is unlikely that they will be resolved anytime soon.”

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