Danish electronic waste recycling law passed

Dramatic increase in recovery expected after local authorities back down over costs

Virtually all electronic and electrical wastes arising in Denmark will have to be collected and treated from the end of this year under a statutory order signed just before Christmas by environment minister Svend Auken.

The order gives local authorities the main responsibility for recovering waste electronic and electrical (WEE) equipment from all sources. Equipment manufacturers will be allowed to take back waste for recovery, but will have to ask permission from authorities. In this way, the government wants to ensure that all arisings are treated as waste and therefore to discourage exports under the guise of "second-hand" equipment.

The Danish law anticipates an EU directive on WEE management, a proposal for which is currently being drafted by the European Commission (ENDS Daily 9 September 1998). Whereas the EU proposal currently suggests setting a target for recovery measured as kilograms of waste per person, the Danish law simply requires recovery for treatment of all relevant wastes.

Approximately 100,000 tonnes of WEE are thought to arise in Denmark annually, though a spokesperson for the Danish Environmental Protection Agency said it had proved almost impossible to obtain an accurate assessment. Less than 6,000 tonnes per year are currently recycled, according to industry sources, but the new law is expected to lead to a big jump in treatment activity. One leading firm said that it would be tripling its staff complement and expected other companies to grow by similar amounts.

Finalisation of the law was held up for a large part of last year by squabbles over funding, and particularly over who should pay for collection and treatment of waste from institutions run by local authorities (ENDS Daily 24 August 1998). The authorities eventually agreed to pay for this themselves, dropping earlier demands for DKr10m (euros 1.34m) in central government subsidies.

The total cost of implementing the law is likely to dwarf this amount. The government expects about 20,000 tonnes of waste to be recovered annually and estimates the costs at about DKr5 per kilo, equivalent to total costs of DKr104m. Household waste taxes will rise by DKr50 per year to help fund recovery of WEE.

The law, which must be implemented by local authorities by the end of this year, contains detailed rules on how different types of WEE must be managed. For equipment such as vacuum cleaners, no special pre-treatment will required. But for a second group, including audiovisual equipment, televisions, telecommunications equipment and transportable information technologies, all hazardous substances will have to be removed and then treated in specified ways. Items and substances covered by the law include batteries, electrical contacts, printed circuit boards, oils, flame retardant plastics and selenium drums.

Follow Up:
Danish Environmental Protection Agency, tel: +45 32 66 01 00.

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