EU countries missing opportunity to spur innovation in electronics

28 September 2006

Brussels, 28 September 2006 - Companies that develop environmentally-friendly televisions, mobile phones and other electronic goods could be forced to subsidise the waste disposal of their competitors' more hazardous and less recyclable items because of poor national implementation of a European law, according to two reports, both released today, by Greenpeace International, the European Environmental Bureau and Friends of the Earth Europe.

One report, 'Lost in Transposition? - A study of the implementation of Individual Producer Responsibility in the WEEE Directive' [1], shows that poor transposition of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive by many EU Member States may end up penalising those producers who are ready to take responsibility for the safe disposal, re-use or recycling of their end-of-life products. This may undermine efforts to make the economy work for greener products, and counteract the aim of the Directive.

The second study highlights the potential impact of producer responsibility policies [2]. It details the success of 'Extended Producer Responsibility' in driving design changes, and shows its potential for being applied to other product sectors. The design changes made by many electronics companies in anticipation of the WEEE and RoHS Directives [3] illustrate the success of 'market-driven innovation' policies that individually reward progressive companies.

"We believe that Producer Responsibility and, particularly, Individual Producer Responsibility, can offer economic benefits to innovative producers who design products with a view to reducing end-of-life treatment costs - for example by making them easy to take apart and recycle. Conversely, collective responsibility tends to be favoured by the laggards who want their product end-of-life costs to be carried by taxpayers and/or cross-subsidised by other companies on the market," said Iza Kruszewska of Greenpeace.

Yet only three of Europe's 25 Member States (Sweden, Germany and Italy) appear to be on course to transpose the Directive in a way that would allow the economics [4] of Individual Producer Responsibility to function correctly [5].

"The failure of Member States to transpose the WEEE Directive's requirements for individual producer responsibility risks jeopardising the EU's global leadership in this area," said Michael Warhurst of Friends of the Earth Europe. "This needs urgently to be corrected both to protect the credibility of EU law and to create the Europe-wide conditions necessary to spur innovation, prevention of toxic waste and recycling."

"It is increasingly difficult to meet environmental targets, so it's especially important to make the market work for the environment," said Stefan Scheuer, EEB's EU Policy Director. "We're calling on the European Commission to focus its review of the WEEE Directive's implementation on the in-depth investigation into the transposition of the relevant provisions for making Individual Producer Responsibility work. This would be an important step to truly improved regulation."

 

***

 

Notes to editors:-

[1] The report 'Lost in Transposition? - A study of the implementation of Individual Producer Responsibility in the WEEE Directive' is available at: http://www.foeeurope.org/publications/2006/Lund_WEEE_transposition_FINAL_28Sept06.pdf.

[2] The report 'Extended Producer Responsibility - An examination of its impact on innovation and greening products'' is available at: http://www.foeeurope.org/publications/2006/Extended_Producer_Responsibility.pdf. Both reports were commissioned from the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, Sweden.

[3] The Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive phases out a number of problematic chemicals from electrical and electronic equipment.

[4] The WEEE Directive implements Independent Producer Responsibility through the use of up-front financial guarantees (paid when the product is put on the market) that cover end-of-life costs for the product. Brand and product-differentiated guarantees give producers an incentive to take account of end-of-life waste treatment costs when designing products and/or product system solutions.

The guarantees are crucial to ensure there are funds to pay for end-of-life costs if a producer goes bankrupt and to avoid 'free riders' - companies whose end-of-life products end up in recycling programmes to which the producer has made no contribution. The insurance industry already offers recycling insurance as a form of guarantee to finance the end-of-life costs of products, eg the Swedish L�nsf�rs�kringar Non Life. However, no company will take up this offer as long as the WEEE Directive's requirement for 'true' guarantees is not translated into Member States' laws.

[5] The WEEE Directive makes producers individually responsible for financing the treatment of their own products put on the market after 13 August 2005, 'new or future WEEE'. For 'historical WEEE', from products put on the market before this date, the Directive assigns collective financial responsibility.

However, only 12 (Austria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden) of the 25 Member States have adequately transposed the Directive to distinguish between collective and individual systems. Of these 12, only Germany, Italy and Sweden have mandated an individual financial guarantee for new electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market (regardless of the compliance scheme they have joined).

In the13 Member States which do not appear to have transposed the distinction between 'historical' and 'new' systems, eight (Belgium, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Malta (based on draft legal text), Slovenia and the UK (based on draft legal text)) only refer to historical WEEE and the need for collective financing (based on the estimation of 'current market share'), with no mention of 'new' WEEE. Two (France and Poland) make no distinction at all, and the remaining three (Hungary, Latvia and Denmark) assign collective financial responsibility for both historical and new WEEE.

Related Issues