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Wednesday, 10 April, 2002, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Europe approves recycling law
Recycling waste
The scheme will mean a radical change to recycling in the EU
Electrical goods manufacturers will have to pay for the recycling of their products, after the European Parliament voted in favour of the scheme on Wednesday.

MEPs voted in favour of a series of measures, which are aimed at stopping electrical goods - from fridge freezers, computers and toasters to mobile phones - ending up in landfill sites and incinerators.

Products affected
TVs, videos, radios, computers, printers, fridges, vacuum cleaners, washing machines, hairdryers, irons, toys, lights, fans and sewing machines
The changes would need to be incorporated across the European Union by 2005. Only 10% of electrical goods are currently recycled in the EU.

Up to 10,000 manufacturers in Europe could be affected by the move, and it is expected to cost the manufacturing industry up to 1bn a year, with an additional one-off cost of up to 5bn to deal with the existing backlog of waste equipment.

The Engineering Employers' Federation, which represents 6,000 manufacturing companies in the UK, said that it believed manufacturers would be forced to pass on the costs to consumers.

Hugh Peltor, head of environmental affairs at the Federation of the Electronics Industry told the BBC's World Business Report that prices could be affected by up to 10% to 15% depending on the product in question.

But European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said their estimates showed only 'modest increases' would result.

"It could be as low as 1% and perhaps 2% to 3% for other products," she said.

Radical measure

The draft law, called the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, must now be approved by EU governments.

This could lead to the growth of free rider companies - manufacturers who enter and leave the market quickly - who thereby avoid paying for the recycling of their own products

Hugh Peltor, Federation of the Electronics Industry
It is the biggest ever recycling initiative in the EU.

Under the measures, consumers and retailers would be allowed to take back used goods free of charge.

This would be done through new local public collection points or retailer take-back schemes.

The manufacturers would then pay for financing the collection, recovery and treatment of their products.

In a key amendment, however, it was decided that individual manufacturers should take responsibility only for their own goods, rather than join in a group scheme.

Although this type of scheme could be more complex to administer, it is the preferred option of industry lobby groups, as individual manufacturers will not be required to pick up the bill for processing other manufacturers' waste.

Negotiations are expected over the coming months, between governments who prefer a collectively financed scheme, and industry groups, as a consequence.

Manufacturing concerns

Hugh Peltor accepted that manufacturers should be responsible for recycling their own waste, but said the measure could be detrimental to consumers and the manufacturing industry.

"We are concerned that manufacturers might be made responsible for recycling waste they didn't make," he said.

"This could lead to the growth of free rider companies - manufacturers who enter and leave the market quickly - who thereby avoid paying for the recycling of their own products."

Anti-recycling devices

Under another amendment approved, anti-recycling devices which are aimed at sabotaging attempts to recycle products or their parts have been banned.

Anti-recycling devices, although in their infancy, are worrying some groups.

They fear that there will be an increasing use of "clever" chips which will be programmed to prevent the re-use and recycling of products.

"We need to deter the manufacturers now before they think of even more ways of using this technology to curb competition," said North West MEP Chris Davies, the Liberal Democrat's environment spokesman.

Bill supporters

Speaking before the vote, MEP David Bowe, Labour's Environment Spokesman in the European Parliament, backed the scheme.

He said: "We are saying to the big manufacturers, your responsibilities do not end until the stream of waste from your worn out products has been disposed of in an environmentally friendly way."

Alex de Roo, a Dutch Green deputy, said after the vote: "Today's decision is a milestone in European environmental legislation, which finally solved the problem of the ever rising quantities of both electronic and electrical waste in the EU.

"It enshrines 'the polluter pays' principle firmly into European law."

Pia Ahrenkilde, European Commission spokeswoman
"If we get the pollution we also have to pay as a society for cleaning up"
Hugh Peltor, Federation of the Electronics Industry
"Prices could be affected by up to 10% to 15%"
See also:

02 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
Turning waste into tarmac
04 Mar 02 | Europe
A world drowning in litter
12 Feb 02 | Wales
Recycling levels rubbished
13 Jul 01 | UK
New life for old mobiles
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