Netherlands forces appliance take-back

Companies ordered to collect and recycle white and brown goods from 1999

Companies that produce or import a wide range of electrical appliances to the Netherlands have been ordered to set up "take-back" systems to collect and recycle used products by the Dutch government. The order comes into effect on 1 January 1999 and will apply to goods already on the market as well as new products.

Dutch environment minister Margaretha de Boer decided to issue a legally binding order after seven years of discussions on voluntary approaches failed to produce a workable result. The ministry appears to have been unhappy at industry's inability to guarantee that companies covered by a voluntary scheme would comply with it.

The order covers a wide range of household and office electrical "white" and "brown" goods. White goods include refrigerators and freezers, heating equipment, water boilers, washing machines, dishwashers and kitchen equipment. Brown goods include sound equipment, televisions, computers, photocopiers, and fax machines.

From 2000, the regulation will also cover small household appliances such as hairdryers, irons and coffee-makers. The environment ministry (VROM) estimates that around nine million appliances in all the categories covered are disposed of each year, and that this will increase in future.

Several aspects of the regulation have caused unease amongst Dutch companies. One is that producers and importers will have to recover collection and recycling costs by placing a levy on products at the point of sale. Companies are also unhappy with a requirement to finance the collection of goods already on the market.

Wim Innemee, Chairman of the Dutch trade association for producers and importers of consumer electronics (FIAR), estimates that costs for the collection of brown goods alone are likely to reach Fl60 million (Ecu27.3 million). FIAR now has six weeks in which to negotiate the details of the scheme with the environment and economic ministries.

Mr Innemee told ENDS Daily that retrospective financing of collection of goods already on the market will be a chief topic of discussion. He said FIAR's members are particularly concerned about competition from Germany, and he predicts that Dutch consumers will purchase appliances in Germany to avoid paying higher prices for goods.

He described the current commercial atmosphere for brown goods in the Netherlands as one of "price erosion and discounting". Mr Innemee continued: "At the moment companies are basically happy just to reach zero level: no profit, but no loss...if you then add to this a levy, then people will go across the border."

Follow Up:
VROM; FIAR, tel: +31 71 517 5037.

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