European Lawmakers Want Electronics Producers to Handle Orphan Scrap

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 30, 2001 (ENS) - Established electrical and electronic goods manufacturers will be forced to pay for recycling "orphan" waste equipment produced by untraceable companies under plans set to be agreed by environment ministers next month, an internal Council of Ministers document has revealed.

Industry says the move is a "big mistake" and will provide an "incentive and a loophole" for free-riders to flout tough new recycling rules.

Solana

Javier Solana is secretary-general of the Council of the European Union. (Photo courtesy Council of the European Union)
The report has been produced by the Environment Working Group for a council meeting in Luxembourg next week, where the European Union's current Swedish Presidency hopes to reach a common position on the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) law.

The working group report says countries have provisionally agreed that the cost of treating products made by companies "no longer present on the market or which can no longer be identified" should fall on existing producers. Previous drafts of the law had not dealt with the problem.

But established manufacturers fear the rule would allow unscrupulous companies to spring up and undercut them by marketing unbranded products for short periods without having to budget for their end-of-life costs, before disappearing from the market.

"I don't think the council understands the issue," Michelle O'Neill of Hewlett Packard told reporters today. "It's now saying everyone is liable for those who dodge the system...honest companies are not given any reward for implementing the directive correctly."

computers

Junked computers, some made by companies that no longer exist. (Photo courtesy Silicon Valley Toxics Coalistion)
Another industry source said the move is "likely illegal" and an obstacle to better ecodesign because companies would have less opportunity to reduce their waste treatment costs.

The market for smaller items such as toasters will be most affected, and increasing sales of products by short lived retailers over the Internet will exacerbate the effect, he said.

It now looks certain that the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament will clash over how management of "new" waste should be financed under the WEEE law that is now being negotiated. Ministers are likely to reject calls to explicitly favour individual company billing. A presidency source confirmed today there is "not a great deal of support for the move," and a "realization that the issue will come back to conciliation."

A decision not to merge the WEEE law with a sister proposal on restricting hazardous substances in equipment manufacture, is expected. A majority of European Union member countries favor a merger, but at least one, the UK, is against the merge, and European Commission and parliamentary opposition means it could only be adopted by unanimity.

The European Council brings together the Heads of State or Government of the 15 Member States of the European Union and the president of the European Commission. It should not be confused with the Council of Europe, which is an international organization, or with the Council of the European Union which consists of the ministers of the 15 Member States.

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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}