Recolight proposes changes to WEEE system

Recolight, a waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) compliance scheme for the lighting industry, has called for changes in the WEEE system to improve lighting recycling rates.

An image of waste lighting
Recolight has funded the recycling of 300 million lamps

Speaking at an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the commencement of the WEEE regulations in the UK, Recolight CEO Nigel Harvey said: “Over the last three years, there has been a material decline in the tonnage of WEEE collected in the UK. Fresh thinking is needed to reverse this decline.”

More ways to dispose of e-waste

Harvey suggested that changes are needed to provide consumers with more ways to dispose of their e-waste, as WEEE disposal is currently limited in the most part to Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs).

Although Recolight currently collects waste lamps from many of the UK’s HWRCs, Harvey made it clear that this limited means of disposal is not sufficient, saying: “We need to give consumers more options. Those options should include providing kerbside collections of WEEE, requiring high street retailers to takeback WEEE instore, and requiring online sellers to offer free of charge collection from the home, when consumers are buying new electricals.”

The UK fell short of its 2018 WEEE collection target, missing the 537,065 tonne goal, set by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), by 44,500 tonnes. With Defra setting an increased target for 2019, changes to the system will be essential in improving e-waste recycling rates.

Harvey proposed a review of the Distributor Takeback Scheme, which allows retailers to opt out of providing an in-store WEEE takeback service by paying a fee instead.

Tackling online free-riders

As the implementation of such changes could increase costs for producers and retailers, Recolight has recommended clamping down on the issue of ‘free-riding’, where online sellers avoid their commercial obligations by refusing to comply with WEEE regulations. For instance, online marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay can sell products from retailers based outside the EU that are not registered with compliance schemes. Research published by Recolight in July 2017 revealed that as many as 20 per cent of lamps sold in the UK were non-compliant.

Harvey said: “The level of non-compliant product sold through online marketplaces and fulfilment houses is truly shocking. We found that 76 per cent of LED light bulbs offered for sale on one marketplace were not WEEE compliant. These producers avoid the costs incurred by companies that follow the law.

“So we are delighted that the government has now consulted on making online marketplaces responsible for the packaging compliance of product for which they facilitate the import into the UK [part of the producer responsibility consultation]. What is now needed for government to adopt that same approach for WEEE.

“Ensuring that online retailers, and all producers bear their fair share of WEEE costs should minimise or even eliminate any additional burden on compliant producers and high street retailers.”

Read more: OECD urges governments to crack down on WEEE free-riding

Environment agencies to increase enforcement powers

It was also suggested that increased agency enforcement powers, such as the introduction of statutory fines for free-riding producers, could drive WEEE compliance.

“The existence of an annual compliance fee since 2013 means it is possible to calculate, to the nearest penny, the costs avoided when producers do not comply. That creates the ideal base cost for a statutory fine. Implementing this mechanism would, at last, create the fair system that compliant companies crave.”

Leading the way in lamp recycling

Since the WEEE regulations were enforced in 2007, Recolight has funded the recycling of over 300 million lamps, LEDs and luminaires, and claims to have contributed to the increase in the UK’s lamp recycling rate, which has improved from 39.5 per cent in 2012 to 48.5 per cent in 2017.

Recolight is now pushing to improve e-waste recycling rates, and aims for the UK to meet its 2019 WEEE collection target through improving the accessibility of disposal and tackling the issue of non-compliance.

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