EU Parliament gears up to tackle electroscrap

Industry, environment, committees prepare to debate draft WEEE, RoS, directives

The business implications of draft EU laws on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and restrictions on use of hazardous substances in such products (RoS) should become clearer next week, when the European Parliament's environment and industry committees debate proposals presented by the European Commission last year.

Furious lobbying in the lead-up to meetings on Tuesday has centred on an increasingly bitter fault-line cutting through industry over how to finance waste treatment. The other major issue has been the scope and timing of planned phase-outs of some toxic metals and flame-retarding chemicals in manufacture.

White goods producers, through industry body Ceced, are pressing for mandatory collective financing of all waste through separate "visible" fees levied on new product sales. They say only this can immediately tackle pre-legislation "historical" waste and avoid costly separation of "new" waste from the waste stream.

Others, meanwhile, are pushing for each producer to be billed for its own waste products, arguing that this would give greater incentives to improve eco-design. Originally upheld by a small group of large brown and grey goods companies plus rogue Ceced member Electrolux, the idea has now been taken up more broadly by IT/communications association Eicta and consumer electronics body Eacem.

Both sides have sought independent legal opinions to buttress their arguments. One paper for Ceced assesses the compatibility of the visible fee with EU competition rules. It admits the scheme would be "difficult" to defend for new waste if not mandated in legislation. But it says there are "numerous arguments" justifying an exemption from the competition rules.

Proponents of individual financing point to an opinion commissioned by manufacturing association Orgalime, whose members include Ceced, Eicta and Eacem. This concluded that individual financing was the legally preferable option to achieve the directive's aims. But it also says visible fee would not contravene competition laws if set independently of manufacturers.

Those favouring individual financing appear to have the upper hand; rapporteurs in both committees have opted to back them. A vote in the industry committee on Tuesday will reveal the extent of wider parliamentary support. The Commission's original text is compatible with either approach, while the Council of Ministers is waiting for the Parliament's final opinion before broaching the issue.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee and industry committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111.

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