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Document 52000AE1407

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, andthe Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment

OJ C 116, 20.4.2001, p. 38–43 (ES, DA, DE, EL, EN, FR, IT, NL, PT, FI, SV)


Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, andthe Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment

Official Journal C 116 , 20/04/2001 P. 0038 - 0043

Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on:

- the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment", and

- the "Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment"

(2001/C 116/08)

On 14 September 2000 the Council decided to consult the Economic and Social Committee under Articles 95 and 175 of the Treaty establishing the European Community on the above-mentioned proposals.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 15 November 2000. The rapporteur was Mr Colombo.

At its 377th plenary session (meeting of 29 November 2000), the Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 100 votes to four, with three abstentions.

1. The Commission proposals

1.1. The two proposals are designed to tackle the environmental problems caused by the rapidly increasing waste stream of electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) ranging from large and small household appliances (washing machines, refrigerators, toasters, hairdryers etc.) to IT and telecommunication equipment (PCs, printers, cellular telephones etc.) and from lighting equipment to automatic dispensers. More specifically - and in line with the Community's general waste policy - they aim at the prevention, re-use, recycling and other forms of recovery of such waste as well as at their safe treatment and disposal. At the same time, the proposals seek to contribute to the harmonisation of several national initiatives taken in this area.

1.2. In 1998, 6 million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment were generated (4 % of the municipal waste stream). The volume of WEEE is expected to increase by at least 3-5 % per annum. This means that in five years 16-28 % more WEEE will be generated and in 12 years the amount will have doubled. The growth of WEEE is about three times higher than the growth of the average municipal waste. More than 90 % of WEEE is currently landfilled, incinerated or recovered without any pre-treatment. In view of their hazardous content, a large proportion of various pollutants found in the municipal waste stream comes from WEEE. The environmental burden due to the production of WEEE exceeds by far that due to the production of materials constituting the other sub-streams of the municipal waste stream.

1.3. The first draft Directive (the "WEEE Directive"), based on Article 175 of the Treaty (environment), deals with the management of WEEE. Following the concept of shared responsibility, it lays down a number of obligations upon relevant actors: producers, distributors, public authorities and consumers.

1.3.1. As far as WEEE from private households is concerned, the proposal's main provisions are summarised in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Household WEEE - Principal obligations laid upon different actors


1.3.2. For WEEE originating from other than private households a set of partially different rules is proposed. For this category, for instance, producers will be given responsibility for collecting WEEE from holders (Art. 4.3) and the collection target of four kilograms (Art. 4.5) does not apply. Most importantly, the costs for the collection, treatment, recovery and disposal of such waste will be covered by agreements between the producer and the user of the respective equipment at the time of purchase (Art. 8).

1.3.3. In addition to the obligations referred to in points 1.3.1 and 1.3.2 above, the proposed WEEE Directive contains provisions regarding information to be given to users (Art. 9) and treatment facilities (Art. 10). In addition, it requires Member States to provide information on the quantities and categories of electrical and electronic equipment put on the market, collected and recycled (Art. 11) and to report to the Commission on the implementation of the Directive (Art. 12).

1.4. The second draft Directive (the "hazardous substances Directive"), based on Article 95 of the Treaty (internal market), requires producers to substitute the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) in electrical and electronic equipment by 1 January 2008. Some applications of these substances are however exempted from this provision (Art. 4.2). Under the proposal, the substitution requirement can be amended in the future, in the light of technical progress and new scientific evidence, and following consultation with producers. In any case, the Commission is to review the substitution requirements by 1 January 2004 in order to take account, as necessary, of new scientific evidence.

2. General comments

General comments on both Directives

2.1. The explanatory memorandum accompanying the two Commission proposals gives a detailed account of the current situation as regards production, recovery, recycling and disposal of WEEE. The Commission proposals are therefore to be endorsed, in view of the fact that: there is expected to be rapid growth in WEEE; its content is hazardous; WEEE products carry "ecological baggage"; and more than 90 % of WEEE is currently landfilled, incinerated or recovered without pre-treatment, with serious consequences for the environment and human health.

2.2. The Committee is pleased that the Commission has chosen an innovative approach to the environmental impact of electrical and electronic equipment. These measures make the European Community a leader in the management of the environmental problems associated with this thriving, strategically important sector. The Committee asks the Commission to promote this innovative approach in international forums, especially the OECD.

2.3. In its opinion on the review of the Community strategy for waste management, the Committee has already expressed its views on the importance of implementing the principle of producer responsibility(1), and called for the approach identified in the "packaging" Directive to be extended to other priority waste flows. Only producers can adopt - in the design and manufacturing stage - an approach which will ensure maximum lifespan for their products, and the most environmentally-friendly recovery and disposal methods when they are scrapped. The Ecolabel and the EMAS environmental certification scheme could also be useful in promoting more advanced solutions.

2.4. It should be emphasised, however, that the Commission's step-by-step approach to WEEE (1. prevention 2. re-use, recycling and recovery 3. treatment and safe disposal) is partly undermined by the absence of an essential third Community legislative instrument on the design and manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment. The Commission merely gives a vague commitment to producing this vital tool for effective WEEE prevention "later this year".

2.4.1. In order to ensure that effective prevention is built into the WEEE production stage, the ESC calls on the Commission to consider all available instruments that could guide the criteria for the design and manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment; the aim should be to minimise the environmental impact without hindering the sector's innovative potential. Only then will WEEE management comply fully with the prioritisation underpinning Community legislation on waste (prevention, re-use, recycling and recovery, safe disposal).

3. Comments on the WEEE proposal

3.1. Objectives - Article 1

The Committee welcomes the proposals' objectives, in particular the emphasis put on prevention of WEEE (i.e. the reduction of the quantity and the harmfulness of such waste). It notes, however, that the absence of a proposal on the design and manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) may act as an obstacle to achieving the prevention objective in full.

3.2. Separate collection - Article 4

3.2.1. Separate collection is an essential prerequisite for subsequent treatment and recovery operations. More specifically, since both treatment obligations (Art. 5) and recovery targets (Art. 6) are expressed in terms of collected WEEE (as opposed to total WEEE generated), the rate of collection is a crucial parameter for the extent to which the Directive's objectives will be achieved. Against this background, the provisions of Article 4.5 (a non-binding collection rate of WEEE from private households of 4 kg per inhabitant per year by 2006) raise a number of questions.

3.2.2. According to the Commission (point 9.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum), the 4 kg collection target constitutes only 25 % of the overall annual generation of WEEE, thus implying that the environmental risks associated with the remaining 75 % might still not be properly addressed in the medium term. Therefore, one or more of the following suggestions should be considered: (i) changing the proposed soft target into a legally binding one; (ii) increasing the proposed 4 kg rate to a more ambitious level; (iii) advancing the proposed date of 2006; and (iv) introducing a collection target for WEEE from other than private households, for which no such target is proposed. These suggestions seem all the more justified considering the arguments given in the description of the contents of Article 4 contained in the Explanatory Memorandum: a few years ago the proposed collection rate of 4 kg had already been achieved in pilot projects in several countries(2).

3.3. Treatment - Article 5

3.3.1 The Committee welcomes the treatment requirements set out in Article 5(1). Furthermore, two important instruments for monitoring the implementation of the environmental requirements are provided by the obligation on operators to obtain a permit, and on the Member States to carry out an inspection if they wish to apply the derogation from the permit requirement referred to in Articles 9, 10 and 11 of Directive 75/442/EEC.

3.3.2 In order to avoid market distortions and perverse incentives to transport waste to other "weaker" areas, the Member States must ensure that the same environmental standards apply to waste treatment and recovery plant across the European Union.

3.3.3 While Regulation (EEC) No 259/93 provides for the option to export hazardous waste for recovery, including to third countries, it cannot be denied that the risk posed by hazardous substances increases with the length of the journey, given the larger geographic area covered and the increase in the number of people exposed. Accordingly, as the Committee has already stated(3), the principle of proximity and self-sufficiency must be invoked whenever possible, including in the light of prevention priorities.

3.4. Recovery - Article 6

3.4.1. The ESC advocates ambitious targets for recovery, re-use and recycling. According to the Commission, its proposals in this respect reflect the state of the art of recyclers and do not involve specific extra costs compared to the average recycling costs observed in a number of European pilot projects. This being the case, the question arises as to why the proposed targets only have to be met by 2006 and why they will then remain unchanged until at least 2009 (possibly more ambitious targets are only foreseen for the period "beyond 2008"). Finally, the Committee would stress that the lack of a separate target for the re-use of WEEE weakens the proposal's re-use objective.

3.4.2. The Committee realises that these ambitious targets call for modern, efficient waste management firms. Most businesses in this sector are SMEs. In order to steadily increase recovery and recycling rates, encouragement must be given to investment in this sector, in particular by providing financial incentives to help SMEs make the necessary adjustments.

3.5. Financing obligations - Articles 7 and 8

3.5.1. Article 7 possibly contains the proposal's most debated provisions. In the light of the concept of shared responsibility they aim at spreading the costs associated with the proposed measures among producers and public authorities. Whilst the Committee agrees with this principle, it would like to comment on a number of specific aspects of the proposed Article 7 as follows:

3.5.2. The possibility for consumers to return WEEE free of charge should be considered essential for the Directive's effectiveness.

3.5.3. The Committee notes that - in the current situation - the proposed measures imply a 50 %-50 % burden-sharing between public authorities and producers. However, in future, public authorities are expected to bear a higher proportion of overall costs, putting the consequent application of the shared responsibility principle under pressure.

3.5.4. The proposed provisions regarding the financing obligation set out in Article 7.3 raise two sets of questions relating to i) their entry into force and ii) the latitude Member States have in implementing them. Regarding the first aspect, it should be noted that the proposal requires producers to (co-) finance the management of WEEE only five years after the entry into force of the Directive. The implications of this provision should be further examined. Here account should be taken of the fact that whilst the five-year transition period is proposed mainly with a view to solving the problems related to EEE put on the market before the entry into force of the Directive ("old"(4) as opposed to "new" EEE), it does not address the problems of EEE with a life more than five years. Finally, although the proposal appears to allow Member States to introduce the financing obligation before the five-year transition period if they wish to do so, this should be set out more explicitly in the proposal. As for the second aspect, a major point for discussion is whether producers should be allowed to levy a visible fee on new EEE as demanded by producer organisations. Whereas - according to the Commission - such a fee could act as a disincentive for producers to continuously improve their product design, it is not ruled out by the proposal. Whilst the use of a visible fee may be justified for "old" EEE put on the market before the entry into force of the Directive (i.e. before the importance of new design requirements becomes fully clear), its use after that period should be considered more critically.

3.6. Information for users - Article 9

The Committee would stress the fundamental importance of adequate information for users. In encouraging consumers to contribute to the management of WEEE, Member States should have recourse to publicity campaigns underpinned by the mass media. In addition, the importance of innovative, "fun" incentives (e.g. a "collection prize" for local communities) as well as of environmental education should not be underestimated.

3.7. Information for treatment and recycling facilities

3.7.1. The Committee believes it is essential to ensure recyclers - largely SMEs - are provided with as much information as possible. Industry could help launch a drive to modernise SMEs and help them comply with environmental requirements, taking into account the need to engage the appropriate vocational training resources.

3.7.2. The ESC is in favour of preparing recycling manuals, affixing a distinguishing mark to plastic components and to those containing hazardous substances, and designing products in such a way as to facilitate separation of the components destined for recycling from those for disposal.

4. Comments on the hazardous substances proposal

4.1. The deadline of 1 January 2004 rather than 2008 for eliminating substances such as PBBs and PBDEs, which Germany, for instance, stopped producing voluntarily as far back as 1986, would appear more reasonable in terms of producer compliance. This is borne out by the Commission's statement that "the last European manufacturer of PBB stopped its production in the year 2000".

4.2. In Article 5(1) a), b) and c), the Commission lists the criteria for reviewing the substitution requirement by 31 December 2003 (Article 6) - four years earlier than the entry into force of the requirement. This would seem to clash with the Directive's objective. It would be more effective to provide for arrangements for consulting all stakeholders, and launch these after the substances referred to in the proposal have been substituted. In this respect, the wording of Article 5(2) on the possible amendment of the requirements to substitute the substances covered by the Directive, should provide for consultation of all stakeholders (recyclers, recovery operators, and consumer and environmental organisations).

4.3. With particular regard to the Directive on substitution of hazardous substances, the Committee calls for a thorough examination of the numerous national regulations governing products containing heavy metals, PBDEs and PBBs, to enable the new legislation to benefit more satisfactorily from such experience. In order to ensure that the Directive's objectives are achieved, the voluntary agreements which already exist in some Member State should also be exploited to the full, by capitalising on their achievements and remedying any weaknesses encountered thus far.

4.4. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a particularly problematic substance for the treatment and disposal of WEEE. Plastics in general account for 20 % of WEEE (point 5.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum). PVC alone accounts for more than 20 % of the plastic used in electrical and electronic equipment. In its Green Paper on the Environmental issues of PVC(5), the Commission identifies and explains the problems which PVC causes for the environment and human health. These are mostly linked to the use of certain additives and to the management of PVC waste.

4.5. Given the importance of the subject and its implications for economic and social decisions, the Committee is ready to contribute to the debate launched by the Green Paper. It appreciates the Commission's declared intention to present, at the beginning of 2001, a communication setting out a comprehensive Community strategy on the environmental issues of PVC. The Committee believes that the proposed Directives must contain an explicit commitment to amend these legislative instruments in the future, in the light of future developments in the Community approach to solving the environmental problems posed by the use of PVC.

Brussels, 29 November 2000.

The President

of the Economic and Social Committee

Göke Frerichs

(1) OJ C 89, 19.3.1997.

(2) Norway, for example, quickly reached a collection rate of 5 kg.

(3) OJ C 89, 19.3.1997.

(4) So as to avoid confusion, a distinction should be made between products put on the market before the entry into force of the Directive ("old" products) and products put on the market before the entry into force of the financing obligation ("historical" products).

(5) Draft Green Paper -Environmental issues of PVC - COM/2000/469 of 26 July 2000.