EU states, firms, criticise electronic waste law

Tougher producer responsibility rules attract flak, DGIII paper signals difficult discussions ahead

The latest draft of a proposal for a new EU law on the takeback of electrical and electronic waste circulated by the European Commission's environment directorate (DGXI) last month has been criticised by EU governments and industry.

Chief among the complaints from both groups is DGXI's move to place direct responsibility on producers to organise and finance collection of end-of-life goods for recycling (ENDS Daily 13 August). "This has come out of the blue sky - no one asked for this," an official of one large EU member state told ENDS Daily following a meeting with DGXI officials to discuss the latest draft yesterday.

A DGXI source confirmed that several countries had complained that the plan would force them to change existing national schemes under which local authorities manage collection. But he said it was necessary to harmonise national systems and pointed out that some countries supported DGXI's view that producers should be given direct responsibility, although he could not say that the majority did.

In a position paper published today, Orgalime - which represents EU electronics and electrical industries - argued that it would be unfair to make producers responsible because they could do nothing to alter the costs or environmental impact of collection through product redesign. According to Orgalime, DGXI's latest plan takes "little account...of the views and proposals" of manufacturers.

Another concern shared by governments and industry is a proposal to ban the use of several hazardous substances in equipment manufactured by 2004. In particular, they have called for more exemptions to enable continued use of lead solder.

DGXI's attempt in its latest draft to be more explicit about how producers should finance the collection and recycling of goods has also drawn flak. DGXI wants to avoid 15 different financing schemes, which could create barriers to trade, while member states and producers want flexibility to design schemes that suit national economies.

At yesterday's meeting, many member states also complained that the 70-90% recycling targets now proposed by DGXI were too ambitious, particularly feedstock recycling and incineration are not allowed to count towards meeting them. But the directorate's new approach to collection - deferring the setting of compulsory targets - met with broad approval.

DGXI officials are keen to consult with other Commission directorates by the end of the year. However, sources predict that "hard discussions" lie ahead judging by a highly critical position paper recently circulated to member states by the Commission's industry directorate (DGIII). The paper questions the justification for DGXI's proposal as well as raising specific concerns about its scope and design.

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

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