The new WEEE Regulations: An analysis so far

Written by: Dr Philip Morton | Published:

Dr Philip Morton, CEO of REPIC and director of WEEE Europe, gives his analysis of the first compliance year milestone since the recast WEEE Directive was transposed into UK law and discusses what the industry can expect for the year ahead.

The Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) industry has come through a significant period of change and to mark the first compliance year milestone since the recast WEEE Directive was transposed into UK law, REPIC, the largest producer compliance scheme held a round table event to obtain the thoughts of all stakeholders in the industry.

It's been an excellent first year under the new UK WEEE Regulations (2013) and our recent round table event held in partnership with the APSRG, gave a good indicator on how the sector has been responding to the changes. The overall feedback was very positive.

The original WEEE Directive

First introduced at the end of 2006 with collections beginning in mid-2007, the aim of the original WEEE Regulations was to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic goods going to landfill and improve recovery and recycling rates of these products.

However, the system encountered various problems as a result of inherent flaws in these original regulations. In particular, the origin and treatment of WEEE was neither clear, nor auditable for the stakeholders involved. This, coupled with the "must buy" market for WEEE evidence unfortunately created a distorted marketplace where WEEE evidence notes were excessively traded at prices that were often not reflective of the true costs that producers should pay.

The key changes

As part of implementing the recast WEEE Directive into UK law BIS took the opportunity for a complete review of the Regulations and some of the key changes introduced by BIS have already ensured a clearer audit trail. Being able to efficiently audit has meant that it has been easier to influence the quality of WEEE treatment, while creating a fairer, more transparent arena for recycling WEEE. It has also helped to stimulate transition towards equilibrium for the market. PCSs are now not incentivised to over collect and more and more WEEE collectors are seeking to partner directly with the PCS that needs and funds WEEE rather than an intermediary scheme that doesn't.

The move to a known tonnage target for WEEE collections has been a significant change. The UK has moved away from the previous closed system, where 100% of all WEEE evidence had to be owned by producer schemes in exactly the right proportion according to their relative market shares. This change has meant the removal of the 100% 'must-buy' system where evidence was being traded at prices that were unregulated or uncapped.

Removal of the must buy market coupled with a known tonnage target has eliminated excessive trading, by removing the requirement for producer compliance schemes (PCS) to trade evidence between each other. In fact, BIS has said evidence trading is no longer required and indeed is no longer facilitated. In its place, evidence is now issued from the treatment facility directly to the PCS that is financing the treatment. This means a clearer audit trail can be established, leading to an increased influence over quality.

The elimination of evidence trading allowed for the third key change - a large price correction in the market. This was estimated for the UK system at £18 million by MP Matthew Hancock, minister for business, enterprise and energy at BIS. Correcting the price has helped to ensure that the costs producers now pay is more reflective of the true cost of WEEE recovery and recycling, a key goal set out by BIS.

The fourth change is the compliance fee - set annually by the secretary of state – it is a legitimate alternative method of compliance. According to BIS, the fee was introduced to minimise the likelihood that PCSs would intentionally over collect WEEE beyond their target, to ultimately sell on at a higher cost at a later date.

The verdict

Following a year under the new regulations, it has become increasingly clear that a combination of these changes have helped to start rebalancing the system.

Since adopting the new WEEE regulations, the visibility of the WEEE treatment route has improved for everyone involved. Each PCS now knows who their suppliers and treatment partners are (and vice versa), and both parties have benefited from having an improved influence over the quality of treatment.

Another positive outcome of the new regulations is that the costs incurred are now more reflective of the actual costs producers are required to pay. This, together with the fact that the UK has collected more WEEE in 2014 than in previous years and therefore exceeded the national target, is further proof that these changes are a step in the right direction.

All the speakers at the APSRG event expressed the same sentiment, confirming that while positive changes have been seen, there are still more opportunities to develop the system as we move forward into another compliance year. Some stakeholders suggested there may be an increased administration burden on treatment partners because of the new reporting systems. They were all pleased to hear that solutions are currently being worked upon to modify the systems to eliminate any burdens. For others, the issue was how to alleviate the compression of activity seen at the year end – evidence transfer deadline of 31st January.

Refreshingly, all agreed that 2014 has been a successful first year under the new regulations, and while not 100% perfect, there are plenty of encouraging signs that continued collaboration, open discussions and transparency has been and will continue to be the way to ensure a better system for everyone involved in WEEE recycling."

- REPIC is a not-for-profit company established in January 2004 by leading companies in the electrical and electronics industry to meet their producer obligations under the WEEE Directive

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