EU electroscrap proposals draw ire

Industry generally hostile, public interest groups express concern, over new waste plans

The European Commission's announcement yesterday of plans to deal with Europe's growing mountain of waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) has drawn a mixed response. Though industry and public interest groups are relieved that a concrete proposal exists after a seven-year drafting process, most say there are still flaws in the draft EU legislation.

The plans were comprise two directives: one aiming to increase electroscrap collection and recycling through producer responsibility, and a second which will phase out four heavy metals and two brominated flame retardants in product manufacture. A third to be released later this year will tackle product design (ENDS Daily 13 June).

Leading the charge against the WEEE directive is European white goods association Ceced, which failed to persuade the Commission to explicitly allow manufacturers to fund recycling obligations through a fixed "visible fee" on new electrogoods (ENDS Daily 18 May). "We now must criticise this proposal severely," said spokesperson Silvano Fumagalli.

"The only feasible way [forward] is through collective, not for profit take-back schemes financed by a visible fee," he said. The directive would instead raise the overall cost to society "by a factor of two or three" because profit margins and sales taxes would be added through the distribution chain.

Meanwhile, the WEEE directive's financing provisions have disappointed white goods maker Electrolux, the one Ceced member to support cost internalisation as the best driver of greener product design (ENDS Daily 20 April). Its plea for individual company-by-company financial responsibility for product recycling was ignored by the Commission. Financing will now be left to member states' discretion.

Charlotte de Roo of the European consumers' association Beuc said the Commission should have included this option of individual responsibility. "The consumer has to feel that the product he has paid for has been produced in a way which is more environmentally friendly," she said.

Responding to the now separate hazardous substances directive, senior American fire safety officials visited Brussels yesterday to complain that its proposals to ban PBB and PBDE flame retardants would compromise fire safety. The Commission had failed to give fire safety the same level of importance as environment, a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, bromine industry group Bsef said the planned bans set a "dangerous precedent for bypassing conclusions of EU risk assessments," and claimed that the German and UK governments were already opposing the move. A second requirement to separate plastics containing any brominated flame retardants at end-of-life contained "no recycling logic" and would lead to mountains of worthless mixed plastics, a spokesperson said.

Similar concerns over the WEEE directive were echoed by European information and communication technology association Eicta, which said not enough attention had been given to creating markets for recycled materials. However, Bill McCartney of Eicta praised EU environment commissioner Margot Wallström for reducing the impact on industry by removing an obligation to pay for waste collection as well as recycling and also for delaying the introduction of producer responsibility for five years.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Ceced and press release, tel: +32 2 706 8290; Beuc, tel: +32 2 743 1590; Bsef, tel: +32 2 733 93 70; Eicta, tel: +32 706 8470. US association of state fire marshals, tel: +1 202 737 1226.

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