European Lawmakers Approve Tougher Electroscrap Rules

STRASBOURG, France, May 16, 2001 (ENS) - The European Parliament has called for major changes to proposed European Union laws on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and restrictions on hazardous substances. The measures approved at the parliament's monthly plenary session Tuesday in Strasbourg will now be considered by European Union environment ministers.

One measure requires the manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment to pay for the recycling of their products. The law covers a wide range of electrical items from hairdryers to personal computers.

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Electroscrap consists of waste circuit boards like these. (Photos courtesy Electroscrap.com)
From 1999, Norwegian retailers have been obliged to take back all discarded electro equipment, but Norway is not a part of the 15 nation European Union.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) called for the WEEE law to explicitly favor individual producer responsibility for financing waste treatment.

For the first time, the European Commission also said that it could accept the move. Previously it had preferred to leave the choice to member states.

The Commission's endorsement carries political weight since, under EU voting rules, ministers will now need a stronger consensus if they want to keep the neutral wording currently in the text.

Though the parliament is united in its support for individual producer financing of waste handling, the clause was only narrowly passed after members of the center-right EPP grouping voted against an add-on amendment giving the European Commission a veto over government decisions to exempt certain industry sectors from the principle.

MEPs also said EU member countries should be allowed to make manufacturers pay partial costs of door-to-door waste collection. Heavy lobbying by industry had earlier persuaded the European Commission not to include this responsibility in its proposals. Collection is by far the most expensive component of the waste treatment chain.

On other points, the parliament backed an increase of five to 10 percentage points in proposed recycling targets for different product types and called for entry into force of the law's key provisions after 30 months rather than five years.

computers

A few of the millions of obsolete computers piling up in heaps of waste
Lawmakers also demanded minimum annual collection rates of six kilograms (13.2 pounds) rather than four per head. Waste that accumulated before the law takes effect, so-called "historical" waste, should be financed by industry collectively, the assembly said, with a separate price tag showing the extra costs permissible.

In the proposal dealing with restrictions on hazardous substances, the assembly resisted pressure from the Environment Committee to add to the six substances targeted for prohibition - lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and the brominated flame retardant groups PBB and PBDE.

Parliament approved a push forward of the phaseout date by two years to 2006.

Components containing these six substances should be removed from all waste, the parliament said. Exemptions from the ban were added for lead in high-temperature solders, in glass for electronic components, in piezoelectric devices and in computer servers and other data storage systems.

The intent of the laws is to make producers design environmentally friendlier products with less hazardous substances that can be more easily reused or recycled.

U.S. public interest groups today applauded these moves by the European Parliament. "Electronic equipment is one of the largest known sources of heavy metals, toxic materials and organic pollutants in municipal trash waste," said Leslie Byster of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

"The new European law sets high standards for producer responsibility and tougher requirements for attaining higher recycling rates. If the high-tech companies in Europe can follow the Directive," Byster said, "there is no reason to believe that they can't follow the same practices in the U.S. and elsewhere."

Some businesses are already capitalizing on the mountains of electroscrap accumulating in industrialized countries around the world. Electroscrap.com is an online advertising and information exchange for businesses and individuals seeking to sell, buy, or properly dispose of waste electronic materials. The website's international member directory is a tool for IT managers, individuals and businesses dealing with excess electronic scrap and obsolete computer equipment.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}