23 November 2011 by Pelle Neroth
The 60W incandescent lightbulb ban on 1 September shows the very real and concrete powers the EU has to change everyday lives almost overnight.
And more is coming up.
The upcoming revision of the WEEE (Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive aims to reduce the amount of electronic gear that ends up in landfills. To date, the WEEE directive has been successful at getting big items returned for recycling at the retailer - fridges, washing machines, the like. But the directive has been less successful at getting small electrical items like hairdryers or MP3 players back. That may be about to change. To its critics, however, the recast directive, while laudable in its aims, is poorly conceived in its methods.
Under the existing rules, takeback occurs on a 1:1 basis, that is, only when the retailer sells the type of appliance taken back, and only when the customers buys a new item from the store.
But under the new proposal, which passed its second reading in the parliament, a member of the public could walk into a computer store with a hairdryer and legally drop it off for disposal, free of charge. Not just hair dryers but possibly game consoles, shavers, remote controlled cars, toasters. MP3 players, mobile phones.
Light bulbs included
In addition, used light bulbs could also be disposed of.
Effectively, it converts electrical goods shops into general collection points for all small electrical - and other - waste. Surveys show that most Brits are currently disposing of small electronic waste - unlike their white goods - in their general household waste stream with most householders saying they "don't give a second thought to it". E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe, rising at triple the rate of the normal municipal waste stream and equivalent to more than 10 kilos a year per individual.
Carl Schlyter, MEP, deputy chairman of the European parliament's environment committee, told me that only the smallest electronics shops will be excluded. The aim, Schlyter says, "is to target not every retailer just the little bit bigger ones. This means that the typical tech wizard's shop would be excluded but not the supermarkets or the retail chains".
Schlyter says: "I do not feel sorry for the retailers. They are selling products which in many cases contain highly toxic chemicals, the least we could do is make sure this electronic does not contaminate municipal waste so that the municipal waste cannot be recycled. if we are successful, this recycling can be very economically positive with recovery of metals and reduction of environmental damage."
Eurocommerce, the association that represents the European retail sector, takes another view, saying there are problems the directive does not address. It would be costly to train the staff to dispose of stuff they do not sell.
Also some EU members, mainly in northern Europe, have voluntary takeback collection schemes that are currently high successful, and these would be duplicated by the new scheme.
Eurocommerce wants EU wide overall targets, but let member states decide the collection methods. "One size does not fit all in this case," the association's secretary general Christian Verschuuren says. "A single solution for all is always attractive. But, in the real world, it is not always the best solution."
Proponents say making it easier to dispose of small electrical goods would help the EU the meet new, higher 85% collection targets also being proposed in the legislation, which is expect to undergo final negotiations at the Council in January.
The new legislation comes amid growing concerns among European policymakers about the threat of global resource depletion of precious metals. Recycling modern electronic goods which contain these metals is seen as increasingly necessary.
Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent
Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 23 November 2011 11:37 PM Legislation
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