Big changes to the WEEE regulations
At the end of 2011, the text of an update (or recast) of the WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) Directive was agreed by the Council of Ministers, European Parliament and Commission. The new text contains some significant changes in the way the law affects businesses in the electrical sector, but what does the result of several years of legal discussions actually mean for electrical wholesalers in the UK?
Before the Directive can be implemented into UK law, the Government will need to launch a consultation. It is expected that this will start towards the end of this year. Feeding back to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the approach taken will be vital.
Following the consultation, the UK will need to implement new legislation in time to come into force around the beginning of 2014.
The recast Directive includes a number of new requirements that significantly change parts of the original text. Particularly relevant to wholesalers, are the changes in the collection and recycling targets, and the scope of the directive. It is also helpful to be aware of changes that affect retailers.
The current annual target for collection of WEEE stands at 4kg per head of the population, which the UK comfortably exceeds however the recast Directive contains much higher targets for WEEE collections. In the new Directive, by the end of 2016 targets rise to 45% of the average tonnage of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) put on the market over the previous three years (from 2012-2015). By the end of 2019 targets rise to 65% of the average tonnage of the previous three years, at which time the UK may have an option to use an alternative target which is 85% of WEEE generated.
Whilst achievement of these targets, particularly a 65% target, will be very challenging, it is right that collection targets are more stretching, particularly given the need to ensure that valuable raw materials are not lost. It is quite clear therefore that everyone in the supply chain, which includes producers, wholesalers and contractors, will need to be actively engaged to reach these targets.
The average rate in the UK of recorded WEEE recycling across all B2B sectors in 2010 was just 4.9%. At first glance, that seems very low, and could make achievement of even the 45% target very demanding. However, the gap may not be as wide as this implies. That is because there is much recycling, reuse or refurbishment that takes place in businesses, that is simply not recorded. As a result, in order to meet the new targets, the UK government will need to find ways of capturing this information. This might mean that companies, including wholesalers, currently involved in take-back, refurbishment or resale of used electrical equipment may need to provide regular information regarding their activities to Government agencies.
For the first six years of the new directive, the scope remains the same as the current directive. This long transition phase gives businesses the time to prepare for additional requirements. By the end of 2018, the scope will widen to incorporate most electrical equipment rather than the prescriptive categories that currently exist.
For many businesses, complying with the WEEE Regulations may seem like a burden. However, good compliance schemes work to ensure this isn’t the case by making compliance as simple as possible, and ensuring that all legal obligations are met efficiently.
The recast directive also has new take-back requirements aimed at retail shops and those with more than 400sq m of sales area dedicated to electrical equipment will need to offer collection of ‘very small WEEE’ from 2014. Very small WEEE is defined as having no external dimension larger than 25cm.
In addition to the above changes in the recast directive, there has also been a change to the way the existing WEEE regulations operate, which has significant implications for wholesalers.
Sales through wholesalers
A change to the application of the WEEE Regulations means that companies selling products to businesses through intermediaries, such as wholesalers, can no longer pass on the responsibility for recycling WEEE to their customers.
The change relates to how one clause, Regulation 9(2), is applied. This regulation has been used by many businesses in the UK to pass financial responsibility for recycling onto the final business user. This is acceptable where there is a direct contractual relationship between the producer and the business end user. But where sales to businesses are made through wholesalers, there is usually no direct contractual relationship between the business end user, and the producer.
This clarification was made by the Environment Agency (EA) in a guidance document released in September 2011. The guidance goes on to state that if Producer Compliance Schemes (PCS) whose producer members use Regulation 9(2) cannot show that there are documented agreements in place between the producer and the business end user, then the Scheme itself could be required to finance the treatment of the WEEE.
In the light of the clarification of regulation 9(2), wholesalers who sell equipment that falls within the scope of the WEEE regulations need to urgently check with their suppliers to make sure that they are not relying on this approach. If they are, the suppliers may need to change the way they operate to ensure that free of charge recycling is available for their business end users.
Recolight and Recolight members do not use regulation 9(2). Instead, Recolight offers free of charge lamp recycling, through a network of collection points across the UK, in the knowledge that this is the best way of maximising recycling rates when lamps reach end of life.
The directive is ‘producer responsibility’ legislation which means that producers take financial responsibility for the recycling of their equipment. A producer is any company which manufactures or sells electrical equipment in the UK under their own brand or imports equipment from outside the UK.
Many Electrical Wholesalers already fall within this definition and need to comply now. Last year, a company was fined £35,000 for breaches of the packaging and WEEE regulations. It would therefore be timely for any electrical wholesalers that have not yet registered as a producer under the regulations to review their status, and to comply if necessary. Compliance is straightforward – companies need to join a collective Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) which takes on the responsibility for ensuring that legal obligations are met.