New EU electroscrap directive text emerges

Industry-friendly changes to draft law hoped to enable proposal's formal adoption before June

The European Commission's environment directorate has made significant concessions to industry in a new draft of the proposed EU directive on waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE). Released to other Commission departments last week and already widely leaked, the document contains several changes relaxing the burden of producer responsibility on manufacturers. The proposal to ban some substances in product manufacture remains but its introduction is to be delayed.

Previous drafts of the electroscrap directive have been strongly opposed by industry (ENDS Daily 20 October 1999) and questioned by the Commission's own enterprise department (ENDS Daily 2 May). The new draft is the fourth to be circulated by the directorate, and has been generally well received by industry lobbyists. One source told ENDS Daily today the reaction was one of "surprise and reasonable pleasure" that environment commissioner Margot Wallström had been so "responsive".

In the new draft, the central thrust of the proposals remains unchanged: member states will have to set up separate electroscrap collection systems aiming to reclaim an average of four kilograms of waste equipment per head by 2006. For their part, producers will be obliged to reuse or recycle 70-90% of the collected waste, depending on the product.

The major changes concern how schemes should be financed: the last draft made producers responsible for all costs including collection and recycling, but now Ms Wallström is proposing that they pay only for recycling their goods. Member states will decide who pays for collection of electroscrap from consumers' homes. This is currently done mainly by local authorities; industry had strongly opposed either having to set up its own collection schemes or "writing blank cheques" to local authorities for doing so.

The new text also introduces a five-year delay before making manufacturers responsible for recycling "historical" waste put on the market before the directive enters into force. Though welcomed by the industry, sources say it favours producers of short-life goods such as mobile phones, while white goods manufacturers, whose products have much longer lifetimes, will derive little benefit.

The draft is also a victory for a group of eight large electrogoods firms which has been campaigning for the directive to favour company-by-company rather than collective financial responsibility for recycling waste in order to stimulate greener product design (ENDS Daily 20 April). The new text makes it clear that producers will only pay for the recycling of their own products, though the recycling schemes themselves could be organised collectively.

Finally, the new draft maintains the provision most cherished by Ms Wallström but perceived to be under pressure after opposition from the enterprise directorate: a ban on mercury, lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and some brominated flame retardants in product manufacture. However, the blow to producers has been softened by sliding the proposed phase-out back four years to 2008 and including manufacturers in any reviews of substances bans. One industry source said the planned phase-outs were now "feasible".

Though the enterprise directorate's reaction to the new proposals is as yet unknown, the industry welcome should ease Ms Wallström's task of persuading the full Commission to adopt them; ENDS Daily understands that the consultation process should end within a few days and that the directorate's target date for formal adoption is 30 May, after which the dossier will pass officially to the Council of Ministers and European Parliament.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111. See also the text of the new WEEE directive draft.

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