Wind of change for the WEEE sector

Written by: Nigel Harvey | Published:
Recolight CEO Nigel Harvey

From 2019, WEEE regulations will move to an “open scope”.

This means virtually all electrical and electronic products will need to comply – not just those listed under the 14 WEEE categories. The products now coming into scope include household luminaires, gas boilers, wiring accessories including plugs, sockets and switches, and air-conditioning systems.

Producers of the new products coming into scope that are not compliant will need to join a WEEE producer compliance scheme (PCS). And those that are already compliant will need to include the tonnages of the new products sold within their ‘put on market’ declarations.

In theory, the change also means that more waste electricals should be directed towards the WEEE containers at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs). But whether or not that happens in practice, the protocols used to allocate HWRC WEEE to the different categories will need to be adjusted.

Balancing and compliance

Government is currently inviting proposals to operate a WEEE balancing system. This system is intended to ensure that any local authority WEEE that is not contracted to a PCS is nevertheless collected, and the costs shared, in an equitable manner.

Most PCSs set up a voluntary balancing system in 2016. This includes a bidding process open to all balancing system members to minimise costs, with “black box” invoicing to maintain confidentiality of costs. A small number of PCSs did not join the voluntary system, and that is why, following a consultation, the government decided to make a balancing system mandatory in 2019.

The Environment Agency recently withdrew the accreditation of a WEEE PCS, Northern Compliance, which had over 190 producer members. The EA stated that this was because the operator of the scheme failed to comply with its obligation to finance the WEEE for which it was responsible (or to pay an appropriate compliance fee) in 2017.

In an unrelated case, the EA also obtained a court order against a former director of a recycling company, TLC, under the proceeds of crime act for the repayment of nearly £1.4m that had been acquired through fraud within the WEEE system.

Any moves by the EA to enforce the WEEE regulations more robustly is welcomed.

Non-compliance

There is now clear evidence of high levels of WEEE non-compliance of product sold through online retailers. The rates of non-compliance are highest in smaller products such as light bulbs, tablet PCs and haircare products – and in the long term could put the sustainable financing of some WEEE streams at risk. It is therefore pleasing to see government making a firm commitment to tackle this growing problem.

From 2019, the WEEE charges payable to the EA by producers registered in England will rise materially, and PCSs registered in England will also be required to pay an annual subsistence charge. It is frustrating that these changes do not affect producers or PCSs registered in other parts of the UK – and this does therefore risk creating some perverse incentives.

In the Resources and Waste Strategy, the government has committed to consulting on changes to the WEEE system by the end of 2020. While the full extent is not yet clear, they have said that this will include how to incentivise more sustainable product design and increase recycling, options for tackling the growing numbers of internet sellers who do not meet their obligations and how the WEEE system might be aligned with possible changes to the waste packaging regulations, currently subject to consultation.

The government also plans to review the role of retailers, in particular the Distributor Take-back Scheme – a mechanism which allows retailers to make a small payment as an alternative to providing a WEEE take-back service.

Nigel Harvey is CEO of Recolight


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