Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Second Report





COM(01) 315

Amended draft Directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment.



Common Position of the Council on draft Directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment.


Legal base:Article 175 EC; co-decision; qualified majority voting
Department:Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration:Minister's letter of 23 May 2002
Previous consideration:HC 152-xxiv (2001-02), paragraph 4 (17 April 2002)
To be discussed in Council:See paragraph 2.11 below
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:For debate in European Standing Committee C (together with documents on reduction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment)


  2.1  Waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) was identified in the Community's Fifth Environmental Action Programme[2] as one of the target areas for prevention, recovery and safe disposal. The Commission therefore brought forward in June 2000 two proposals. One of these, on which we are reporting separately, sought to harmonise the rules on the restriction of the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. The other, dealt with in the documents discussed here, aimed to reduce the amount of such waste from electrical equipment[3], and to encourage its recycling and recovery. In order to achieve this, it suggested a range of collection, treatment and recycling measures summarised in our Report of 17 April 2002, in which we noted that our predecessors had decided on 13 December 2000[4] to recommend the proposals for debate in European Standing Committee C, together with the complementary proposals on the use of hazardous substances in electrical equipment. That debate took place on 28 March 2001[5].

  2.2  Subsequent developments were recorded in paragraphs 4.6 - 4.13 of our earlier Report, which drew attention to a partial Regulatory Impact Assessment of 15 March 2002 we had received from the Minister of State for Industry and Energy at the Department of Trade and Industry (Mr Brian Wilson). This provided a detailed up-to-date survey of the information previously supplied, and in particular sought to assess the likely costs of separate collection, treatment and recovery under four different scenarios, depending upon the assumptions made about the extent to which the requirements in the Directive would alter existing patterns of activity within the UK.

  2.3  The Assessment suggested that the overall costs of the measure could be anything from £191 million to £391 million, though it also pointed out that these figures are on the one hand high compared with the Commission's estimates for the Community as a whole, but on the other hand low in relation to those provided by the industry. It also highlighted the fact that the figures provided in an earlier Assessment had put the costs of separate collection as high as £500 million, largely because — unlike the Common Position text — it offered retailers no alternative to taking goods back in-store.

  2.4  The Assessment also sought to identify the benefits from the proposal, which it said were likely to be limited by the existence of other environmental legislation, and by the costs which some waste management systems would themselves impose. However, on the basis that the Directive could lead to the avoidance of between 133,000 and 339,000 tonnes of landfill, it suggested that this would produce in 2005 benefits ranging from £2 million to £5.1 million.

  2.5  In our conclusion, we noted not only the very wide spread in the Government's own figures, but also the considerable differences between these and the industry's estimates, and we said that, whilst we recognised that there would inevitably be uncertainties over the costs of proposals of this kind, we found these differences disturbing, particularly as even the lower cost estimates appeared to be considerably in excess of what the Assessment itself described as the "limited" environmental benefits. Since the Minister had said that the Government supported the Common Position text, we asked him to provide a more convincing justification for this in the light of the relative costs and benefits, and in particular to assure us that the provisions on treatment would not give rise to the sort of capacity problems which appear to have arisen with refrigerators as a result of the measures adopted to reduce ozone-depleting substances[6]. We also said that we would like him to keep us informed of developments in the light of the European Parliament's second reading. In the meantime, we were not clearing these two documents.

Minister's letter of 23 May 2002

  2.6  As regards the variations in the Government's own cost estimates, the Minister stresses the extent to which the four main scenarios on which those estimates are based give rise to different cost implications, and in particular the significant implications of an approach involving 100% separate collection, which would probably involve kerb-side collections. The Minister says that one consequence of this is a difference of around £200 million between the least and most costly scenarios, and he adds that, since the European Parliament favours the latter approach, it is difficult to provide a narrower range of cost estimates until the issue has been resolved at conciliation.

  2.7  On the other points we raised regarding the costs, the Minister confirms that the reduction from the estimates in the original Regulatory Impact Assessment relates primarily to the greater flexibility now provided in the retailer take-back arrangements, where a previously mandatory (and potentially expensive) in-store requirement has now been removed. He also says that the difference between the industry's estimates and those of the Government are attributable both to this latter point, and to the industry having assumed that producers would have to write and print manuals for each product to cover refurbishment, disassembly and re-use, which he points out is — unlike an amendment favoured by the European Parliament — not a requirement of the Common Position text.

  2.8  As to our concerns that the costs appeared to outweigh the "limited" environmental benefits, the Minister says that he believes that the Regulatory Impact Assessments could have been clearer on this point. In particular, he observes that, whilst they point out that the benefits are limited by the impact of other legislation, this should not be read as saying that the proposals have limited benefits, but rather that the overall benefits in this area result from the combined impact of several policies, with each having an important part to play. He sees the potential benefits from this proposal as being reductions in environmental harm caused by the greenhouse effect, depletion of the ozone layer, air acidification, water eutrophication, emissions into air and water, and depletion of non-renewal resources, and he points out that research has concluded that these effects could be reduced by over 50% in many cases as a direct result of this measure.

  2.9  Finally, the Minister addresses our concern that the proposal might lead to a situation similar to that encountered on refrigerators under Regulation No. (EC) 2037/2000. He says he does not believe that this will be the case, as the issues are "fundamentally different", and moreover what is proposed here is a Directive, rather than a directly applicable Regulation, and it thus provides Member States with considerably more flexibility in its implementation. He also makes the point that the treatment requirements for WEEE are primarily related to dismantling procedures, but adds that the Government is not complacent, and will continue to discuss the requirements with all those concerned.

  2.10  On the developments since our last Report, the Minister says that the European Parliament proposed a number of amendments at its second reading on 9-11 April 2002. These included a heavier emphasis on individual producer responsibility, with a need to demonstrate that such an approach would be prohibitively expensive before a collective system of the kind used in most Member States could be used; compulsory separation of WEEE from household waste; increased recovery targets; and the removal of a five year exemption for small producers from the financing requirements of producer responsibility. He says that, in each case, this would represent a more onerous approach than that in the Council's Common Position supported by the UK.

  2.11  Finally, the Minister says that, given the continued difference in view between the Council and the European Parliament, he expects the proposal to go to conciliation under the forthcoming Danish Presidency, leading to a final text this autumn.


  2.12  Whilst we are grateful to the Minister for this further information, and recognise the difficulty of providing accurate estimates of the potential costs in an area of this kind, particularly in the light of the approach favoured by the European Parliament, we are nevertheless concerned at the uncertainties which still arise. Also, we remain to be wholly convinced by the Minister's explanation of the likely benefits. In view of this, and notwithstanding the debate which took place in March 2001 on the Commission's original proposals, we think that it would be right for the House to have a further opportunity to look at what is proposed here. We are therefore recommending these latest texts for debate in European Standing Committee C, along with those on the reduction of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.[7]

2   OJ No. C 138, 17.5.93. Back

3  Defined for this purpose as large and small household appliances; IT and telecommunications equipment; consumer and lighting equipment; electrical and electronic goods; toys; certain medical equipment systems; monitoring and control instruments; and automatic dispensers. Back

4   (21540) 10802/00; see HC 28-i (2000-01), paragraph 1 (13 December 2000). Back

5   Official Report, European Standing Committee C, 28 March 2001. Back

6   Regulation (EC) No. 2037/2000 (OJ No. L.244, 29.9.00, p.1.). Back

7  See paragraph 3 below. Back

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