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Unfair WEEE rules hit UK producers

Nigel Harvey

One of the most interesting points raised by Defra’s look at the waste electrical and elec­tronic equipment (WEEE) reg­ulations concerned ‘freeriding’ by internet sellers.

An overwhelming 73% of respondents said that the reg­ulations had ‘no impact’ or ‘low impact’ in ensuring internet sellers are WEEE compliant.

The findings will be consid­ered in a WEEE Regulations review due by the end of the year, and the consultation out­come will feed into Defra’s resources and waste strategy, currently in preparation.

Meanwhile, research by the WEEE Scheme Forum, the trade association of UK com­pliance schemes, has uncov­ered large-scale potential non-compliance of products sold through online retailers and fulfilment houses. The level of this apparent freeriding was most marked in smaller products such as tablet PCs, electronic screwdrivers, and LED light bulbs.

The proportion of busines­sess potentially non-compliant with WEEE varied from 40% to 88%. For larger products such as display screen equip­ment and washing machines, the apparent rate was lower at 8-12% but still material.

High levels of non-compli­ance have a double-whammy impact on the competitiveness of compliant domestic produc­ers. Non-compliant compa­nies avoid all WEEE charges and, because of the way the UK WEEE system works, compliant companies pay more than they should. That cannot be acceptable.

In September 2017, Recolight sent a list to Amazon Europe of 36 firms selling LED bulbs on its UK site that were not WEEE registered.

In November 2017, we were delighted when a senior man­ager at Amazon told us that listings of those firms “will be blocked…until evidence of compliance is brought for­ward”, within a given time-frame. Six months on, although some of the busi­nesses are now compliant, Recolight can find no evidence that any listings have been blocked.

It seems reasonable to con­clude, in Recolight’s opinion, that Amazon is knowingly allowing the sale of products that effectively break the law. Such apparent lack of progress suggests that robust legislation is needed to tackle the problem.

Many consultation respond­ents suggested that Defra should amend the WEEE Reg­ulations to ensure that online sellers and fulfilment houses take on the ‘producer respon­sibility’ for the product they sell or stock on behalf of inter­net sellers. With many UK producers suffering from this unfair competition, it cannot happen a moment too soon.

Amazon declined a request by MRW for a written response.

Nigel Harvey is Chief executive of Recolight on non-compliance by online WEEE ‘free-riders’

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