Government launches WEEE regulation consultation

The government has launched a consultation on amending current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation so that it complies with the European Union’s (EU) recast WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU.

The Department of Business Innovation and Skills’ (BIS) consultation – ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE): implementing the recast Directive and UK system changes’ – has two objectives: to seek views on how the UK’s WEEE Regulations 2006 should be amended to align with the European recast; and to ‘respond to concerns from UK producers of electrical and electronic equipment under the Environmental Theme of the Red Tape Challenge about the cost of meeting their financial obligations under the UK WEEE Regulations’.

Relevant to producers, retailers, distance sellers, distributors, local authorities, waste management companies and treatment operators, and re-use organisations, the consultation will run until 21 June 2013.

According to BIS, if there is enough support for a reform of current UK WEEE regulations, then the government will consult further on draft regulations.

The final version of these regulations will be set before parliament so that they can come into effect from 1 January 2014. Guidance notes, published by the government, will become available ‘at least’ ten weeks before this date.

‘Business-friendly’ regulation

In the foreword to the consultation document, Michael Fallon MP, Minster of State for Business and Enterprise, said that the new regulations were ‘unavoidable…to ensure a level playing field that drives competition and stimulates innovation whilst ensuring environmental objectives and compliance with the obligations laid down in the revised WEEE Directive are achieved’.

He continued: ‘The revised directive presents us all with new challenges. Not least the need to achieve more challenging collection targets and increased product scope in the future. But the biggest challenge is to ensure we meet those commitments in a way that is as least burdensome as possible – particularly for producers and treatment facilities. I want to know whether our proposals do this or whether you have alternative ideas to suggest.'

The consultation covers topics including:

  • Creating a new, 14th category of WEEE for photovoltaic panels;
  • Broadening the lamp category of WEEE (13th category) to include Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamps, which are ‘rapidly replacing’ Gas Discharge Lamps (GDLs);
  • Developing a protocol to estimate the tonnage of Large Domestic Appliances (LDA) and Small Domestic Appliances (SDA) collected and treated outside the WEEE system established by the regulations, so that the UK can demonstrate that it is meeting the EU’s target of recycling 45 per cent of WEEE by 2016;
  • Improving the Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) system through a design for reuse and recycling weighting mechanism; a return share based on brand sampling; or front end payment for WEEE arising;
  • Introducing 70 per cent recovery and 50 per cent recycling targets for medical devices (8th category), ‘effective immediately’;
  • And increasing all target by five per cent after three years, with a new 80 per cent recycling target for gas discharge lamps.

Despite these changes, the consultation document states that the UK government intends to use the “copy out” principle to transpose the recast Directive and ‘will not to go further than implementing the minimum requirements of the [EU’s WEEE] Directive’.

Red Tape Challenge

In addition to this, the consultation encourages businesses to inform the government on how it can reform existing WEEE legislation to ‘reduce the overall burden of regulation’.

The government is considering three new options for reform, as well as the possibility of leaving current regulations unchanged. The proposals are as follows:

  • do nothing. WEEE regulations will remain unaffected;
  • establishing a National Compliance Scheme for producers, with a Code of Practice for members;
  • setting a collection target and compliance fee for producers; and
  • establishing a matching process of collection sites to Producer Compliance Schemes (PCS), which will see Local Authorities matched with PCSs ‘based on their obligations by collection stream or cost base according to EEE market share’

Speaking of the proposals, the Joint Trade Associations (JTA) group (representing over 90 per cent of all WEEE producer responsibility in the UK) said that they would be most keen to see the matching process and collection target propsals taken forward.

A spokesperson for the JTA said: "Last year, the government’s Red Tape Challenge concluded that producers were financing costs far higher than the true cost of compliance under the current WEEE Regulations. The UK’s existing WEEE regulations allow companies that control access to WEEE to sell evidence that WEEE has been recycled at a significant profit. The result is that in the UK, producers of applicable electrical equipment pay much more than is justified.

"The JTA are pleased that BIS has committed to addressing the key issues that are causing this through new WEEE Regulations.... Of the two preferred options, the JTA favour the PCS/DCF Matching Process. It is tried and tested, and already operates in a number of other European countries. We are convinced that it will result in the fairest cost for all WEEE stakeholders. We are also confident that this option can be implemented within the UK in an effective and timely manner."

Producer Responsibility Regulations

Finally, the consultation document clarifies government powers of entry and seeks to reassure businesses that powers of state intrusion in terms of WEEE inspections are being properly regulated.

For instance, it is stated that enforcement officers must currently provide credentials when requested. The government consultation proposes that these ‘safeguards’ be extended so that officers may not enter buildings that are ‘wholly or mainly’ private dwellings without a judicial warrant, and must give adequate notice to businesses before entering.

In addition to this, receipts must be provided for seized items, which cannot be held for more than three months. Copies of seized documents must be provided to traders, and compensation is required when ‘there has been no breach and the loss/damage has not been due to any neglect or default by that person’.

Speaking of the overall consultation process, Fallon stated: “In summary I am putting forward a package of measures in this consultation document that reduce the cost of compliance for producers and brings greater flexibility for local authorities whilst minimising the business burdens of the revised directive.”

The consultation follows news that 73 per cent of councils responsible for disposing of waste said they could benefit from better understanding of the recast WEEE Directive.

Read more about the WEEE regulation consultation.