Progress made on EU electronics waste plan

Second draft from DGXI maintains producer responsibility aim, drops some targets

Plans for an EU law on recovery and recycling of electrical and electronic waste have moved forward in the last few days with the European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) circulating a second working paper on the issue to member states.

EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard took the decision last summer to draw up a directive, pointing out that only 5% of such waste is currently recycled and that the remainder contributed to the build up of hazardous substances in waste landfills (ENDS Daily 26 September 1997). The draft directive is intended to cover a wide range of consumer goods including mobile phones, games and toys, household appliances and office machinery.

ENDS Daily understands that DGXI's latest working paper contains considerably fewer targets for collection and recycling of equipment than a first one circulated last autumn, which proposed separate targets for 12 categories of equipment. At the time, industry groups described the targets as "unrealistic," and some associations opposed the idea of setting waste recovery and recycling targets at all.

According to officials, DGXI is now proposing "target ranges" for only three broad categories of equipment: large white goods, small appliances and other large goods. Precise targets - and deadlines for their achievement - are to be agreed in consultations with member states and stakeholders in the coming months.

According to a Commission official, although the targets have been changed to take on board industry views, the overall objective of its proposal remains the same. In particular, and despite opposition from manufacturers of some goods, DGXI has not changed its mind about making them share responsibility for products throughout their lifetimes. Nor has it changed its preference for no-fee recycling schemes with producers making up the costs of collection and recycling through increased product prices.

In its first paper, DGXI proposed that member states should encourage producers to improve product design to facilitate repair, collection and recycling. ENDS Daily understands that officials feel the Commission should have a stronger role in determining product standards to achieve this aim without creating conflicting standards across the EU. In its latest paper, DGXI identifies the issue as an important area for discussion.

The working paper retains the requirement that the use of certain hazardous substances in the production of goods should be phased out. The substances identified in the first paper were lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium. But following industry criticism that alternatives are not available in many cases, DGXI now proposes that the use of the chemicals in some applications - to be listed in an annex - should be permitted to continue because it would be "technically impossible" to do without them.

DGXI intends to discuss its latest working paper with member states at a meeting at the end of May and with other stakeholders before the summer. It hopes that the Commission will adopt a formal proposal by early next year.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111.

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