WEEE: A year of change
Nigel Harvey, Chief Executive at lighting compliance scheme Recolight, looks ahead to what 2019 has in store for the WEEE sector
It looks like 2019 will be a big year of changes for the WEEE recycling sector, with legislative changes set to alter the outlook for compliance schemes and producers.
Under the WEEE regulations, operators of local authority sites may require any Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) to collect any WEEE, if there is no contract in place for that WEEE. In order to mitigate the risk to a PCS of receiving such requests, most WEEE PCSs set up the PCS Balancing System (PBS) in 2016. The PBS ensures that any such requests are handled efficiently and fairly. A bidding process open to all PBS members ensures costs are minimised, but a ‘black box’ approach to invoicing means prices bid are not disclosed to PCSs.
Although most PCSs are members of the PBS, a small number did not join. Those PCSs have been able to avoid the cost of collecting excess local authority WEEE. And so the government decided to make a PBS mandatory from the beginning of 2019.
In the first instance, that will be the existing PBS, although a consultation during the second quarter of 2019 will give the opportunity for other proposals to be brought forward. The result will be a much fairer WEEE system, with all PCSs required to finance the collection of excess local authority WEEE.
From the beginning of 2019, the WEEE regulations move from a ‘closed scope’ to an ‘open scope’. Previously, products were included if they were listed in one of the UK’s 14 categories, but now ‘open scope’ means that virtually all products need to comply.
Although the Environment Agency has yet to publish its final guidance on this topic, it seems very likely that the following products, some of which were previously excluded for various reasons, will now be included:
- Gas boilers;
- Wiring accessories such as plugs, sockets, switches and adaptors;
- Air conditioning systems; and
- Household luminaires, including christmas lights.
A smaller range of products remain out of scope. These include products in which the electric function is ancillary to the product’s basic function, such as furniture with a USB charging point and clothing with novelty lights. Incandescent light bulbs and cable with open ends are also out of scope.
This change means that producers selling the new products will need to join a WEEE PCS in time for the beginning of 2019. In addition, where such products are brought to household waste recycling centres (HWRCs), these should be placed in the appropriate WEEE container. New protocols are being developed for allocating the WEEE collected at HWRCs to the relevant UK WEEE categories. Once approved by the environment agencies, recyclers will need to use the updated protocols.
It is worth noting that rather than adopting the six categories used in most EU countries, the UK will retain its 14 WEEE categories. This is not a Brexit policy shift, but a pragmatic approach supported by most producers.
There have been increasing calls for government to act on the non- compliant products sold through online marketplaces. In a survey of one leading online retailer, Recolight showed that 76 per cent of LED lightbulbs were not compliant. It is hoped that 2019 will see the government signalling a move to make online marketplaces responsible for the compliance of products sold through their portals.
Finally, in 2019, there will be an increase in the WEEE charges payable by producers registered in England (other parts of the UK are not affected). PCSs based in England will also be required to pay an annual charge.