Until 7 March 2024, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the devolved administrations are consulting on proposals to reform the producer responsibility regime for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), which is currently governed by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013 (WEEE Regulations). Views are sought on a series of measures which are intended to make it easier for households to recycle various items of WEEE including electrical cords, devices and white goods. The measures are expected to apply in a phased way – some from 2024, and some from 2026 – and to apply across the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland.
The consultation is accompanied by a call for evidence to support further reforms to the WEEE Regulations that go beyond the specific proposals set out in the consultation. The call for evidence covers areas for reform where there is currently a lack of evidence, including full net cost recovery, the allocation of costs for the collection and treatment of household WEEE, the prevention of waste of unwanted EEEE, moving to a circular economy through the design of better EEE, increasing collections of business WEEE and improving treatment standards. It is anticipated that policy proposals arising from the call for evidence will be phased in over a longer timeframe than those in the consultation.
The current system for collection and proper treatment of WEEE is based on “collective producer responsibility”, whereby producers of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) contribute financially based on their market share in specified equipment categories.
While studies suggest that the system for the collection of large EEE (e.g., white goods) operates well, around 155,000 tonnes of smaller household WEEE ends up in residual waste bins each year. A recent study on public attitudes and behaviours found that many people are unaware of, or have difficulty accessing, recycling points for WEEE. The government has concluded that reform is necessary.
The main proposed measures
- Proposals for increasing collections of WEEE from households
- For producers of EEE to be responsible for financing kerbside collections of small household WEEE.
- For producers (and distributors that do not provide take-back services) of EEE to finance bulky waste collections for householders for large items of WEEE.
- Proposals for increasing distributors’ collections infrastructure
- For online sellers and retailers to provide a free-of-charge collection-on-delivery service, requiring the free takeback of large domestic appliances (e.g., washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, freezers and TVs).
- For online sellers with an annual turnover of over £100,000 of EEE to offer takeback of unwanted EEE on a one-for-one, like-for-like basis (1:1 takeback)
- For retailers with an annual turnover of over £100,000 of EEE to provide free takeback of unwanted EEE in store without the need to purchase a new item (0:1 takeback).
- For retailers and online sellers to make customers aware of their disposal options for unwanted EEE at the point of sale.
- To move the point of producer responsibility to the retailer’s store, distribution centre or bulking point (i.e. rather than requiring Producer Compliance Schemes (PSCs) to allow distributors to deliver WEEE into their network, distributors will have responsibility for collections from their customers).
- New producer obligations for online marketplaces and fulfilment houses
- For online marketplaces (businesses that sell goods they own or offering third-party goods for sale) and fulfilment houses (those offering services beyond storage including managing orders, picking/packing orders, inventory control, labelling products, arranging transport/deliver or managing returns) to be subject to obligations to:
- register with a producer compliance scheme (PCS);
- submit data on the total amount of EEE placed on the market by their overseas sellers (in addition to any directly sold by them);
- pay registration fees to the relevant environmental regulator; and
- meet their financing obligations (for ii) through their membership of a PCS.
- Dealing with the environmental impacts of vaping products
- To create a new discrete category for vapes to ensure that vape producers are paying the full cost of the separate collection and recycling of waste vapes.
- System governance, the creation of a WEEE Scheme Administration and performance indicators
- To approve a sector-led scheme administrator that is responsible for managing and administering specific functions of the revised WEEE system, which might include:
- managing the Producer Balancing system for household WEEE (and non-household if necessary);
- administration of a Distributor Takeback Scheme (for use by those distributors who are not required under the new system to offer in store take-back);
- development and administration of a compliance fee methodology in consultation with all PCSs, for approval by government;
- providing evidence and forecasts of the likely household WEEE arisings;
- managing financial obligations placed on PCSs for household WEEE collections;
- developing a methodology for eco-modulation (i.e. modulating fees to incentivise more sustainable design, production and purchasing decisions, so that producers may pay a lower fee for products which are easy to re-use, repair or recycle); and
- assessing and reporting on environmental performance of the future system against key performance indicators with recommendations to government on measures to improve that performance.
The proposals are significant. Though the reforms will deepen the financial contribution of all EEE producers, five specific groups of economic operators will be more fundamentally affected than others: large retailers, large online sellers, online marketplaces, fulfilment houses, and vape producers.
Large retailers will need to roll-out free-of-charge collection points for WEEE in-store; large online sellers will offer takeback of unwanted EEE on a one-for-one, like-for-like basis; online marketplaces and fulfilment centres will be subject to the fundamental producer obligations; and vape producers will have to collectively fund the costs associated with the separate collection and recycling of waste vapes. Organisations falling within any of those five groups in particular may wish to respond to the consultation and should in any event prepare for a fundamental shift in their obligations and associated financial implications.
The time period for the onboarding of some of the changes appears ambitious with reforms “starting potentially as early as next year with measures on online marketplaces, free collection of large domestic appliances by retailers on delivery of a new item and the introduction of a new EEE category for vapes”. The start of the rollout of the household collection system is anticipated from 2026, along with other remaining measures sets out in the consultation document.
While the proposed changes are specific to WEEE, some aspects of the proposed reform mirror those in the evolving packaging extended producer responsibility (pEPR) regime which takes effect in the UK from 2024. Attention should therefore be paid to the way in which the pEPR regime is implemented, as this may inform the way the WEEE reform programme is implemented.