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WEEE Directive: Online retailers should take on producer responsibilities, say WEEE recyclers

Online sellers should be legally required to take on the duties of ‘producer’ under the EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive amid accusations of freeriding, say WEEE collection and recycling associations.

Last week (13 September), over 80 delegates from 12 different countries from the WEEE recycling sector met at a workshop hosted by EucoLight, the European association of lamp and lighting collection and recycling associations, and WEEE Forum in Brussels to discuss the growing number of online marketplaces failing to comply with the WEEE Directive and EEE regulations, a practice referred to as ‘freeriding’.

The introductory speaker at the event, Peter Börkey of the OECD, presented initial findings suggesting that ‘freeriding’ by online retailers could account for 5-10 per cent of all sales of electrical and electronic equipment in the EU.

WEEE Directive: Online retailers should take on producer responsibilities, say WEEE recyclers

The issue stems from online retailers domiciled outside of the EU selling products from producers in places like China that are not registered with WEEE compliance schemes directly to households in the EU and bypassing a national importer or distributor in addition to retailers with a physical presence, such as warehouses, in one or more EU member states. This puts compliant companies and ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers at a material commercial disadvantage,

Out of the ten categories of WEEE stipulated in the Directive – soon to be whittled down to six from August 2018 - the issue is particularly acute for lamps and lighting as, according to a statement from EucoLight in May this year: ‘The products are small, lightweight, and robust enough to be shipped easily. Furthermore, it is widely recognised that WEEE charges per kilogram of EEE tend to be higher in lamps than in many other sectors. This increases the financial attractiveness of freeriding.’

For example, earlier this year, the UK WEEE compliance recycler, Recolight, suggested that around 20 per cent of lamps sold in the UK were non-compliant with the WEEE directive.

The main takeaways from the workshop are that European policy makers and member states should consider:

  • Making online sellers and retailers legally obliged to assume the duties of ‘producer’ under the WEEE Directive for the products that they sell on behalf of non-WEEE compliant producers.
  • Investigating the possibility and appropriateness of employing the concept of an Authorised Representative (AR), whereby a natural or legal person or business designated by a non-EU producer may carry out tasks and duties on behalf of that producer.

Attendees at the workshop also highlighted concerns over the fact that 80 per cent of the problem relates to transactions that take place within the EU, as in many cases the product will have originated from outside the EU, but is held in fulfilment houses or warehouses in the EU. Attendees agreed that tackling this issue should be a matter of priority.

There was an understanding that not all online retailers will be aware of the need to comply and so there is a need for education, while certification for online sellers that do comply with the WEEE Directive could help customers to make an informed decision over where they purchase their electrical products from.

Commenting on the outcomes of the workshop, WEEE Forum Secretary General Pascal Leroy said: “We are delighted that this topic raised such a high level of interest and that the key recommendations have real potential to address this serious problem.”

EucoLight Secretary General Marc Guiraud added: “The process has started; the ideas are on the table.  Now we need to see action on both legislation and enforcement.”

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