Europe to get tough on electronics recycling

The European Parliament (EP) looks set to impose even stricter rules than previously proposed regarding the disposal of electrical and electronic waste.

The Parliament announced this week that it agrees with the Council of the European Union’s position on the disposal of electronic and electrical waste, but has made some amendments to the latest version of the draft directive.

The amendments proposed include increasing the amount of electro-scrap to be collected per person in the European Union from 4 kilograms to 6 kilograms per year, and making this amount compulsory. No one at the EP was available to comment on how this would be enforced or by whom.

This collection target must be achieved by Dec. 31, 2005, and member States will be asked to prove that the target has been reached, the statement said. This would be backed by inspection and monitoring. However, the Parliament rejected the idea of penalties for consumers who do not sort their electro-scrap.

Manufacturers would also be banned from including so-called “clever chips” in devices like printers. These can be used to prevent recycling of ink cartridges or the use of third-party cartridges.

The MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) voted to compel producers to provide up-front guarantees for the financing of the future disposal of their products so that other manufacturers are not left to pay for the removal of products whose producers have vanished or gone out of business.

“Historical waste,” the cost of getting rid of products already on the market, should be split between manufacturers according to their market share by type of equipment, the Parliament proposed, firming up the Council’s proposal that costs should be split “proportionally.”

Claire Snow, director of ICER (Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling) says that it is not yet clear how much the proposals will cost manufacturers, despite ICER having worked with the EU for eight years.

“It’s extremely complex. It’s clear that manufacturers will foot the bill, but how much it costs will depend on how it’s done.” Administration systems, enforcement and data management can be very expensive, depending on how they are set up, she said.

The idea of making each manufacturer deal with their own products may not be as simple as it appears, she said. “We ran a trial and there was about 20 per cent of the products that we couldn’t identify. These are the practicalities and it’s not the European Parliament that’s having to look at them.”

More than just the manufacturer will be affected when the proposal is finalized, she said. Materials suppliers will have to deal with a market flooded with recycled products, and with demand for new materials. Retailers will have to contribute to collection, Snow said, but how they will do that has not been settled.

“They already collect white goods, but they’re not happy at the prospect of a flood of used deep fat fryers, for example.”

Local authorities, too, will have to become involved in separating waste, she said.