Still a challenge?

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- Updated

The 1st July 2007 will be forever etched in the memory of everyone connected with the implementation of the WEEE Regulations. At first glance, the process appeared to be fairly simple. Producers needed to select and register with a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS). Local authorities needed to sign up their sites to become Designated Collection Facilities (DCFs) and then select a PCS to collect WEEE from each of their DCFs. Meanwhile retailers either needed to join the Distributor Take-back Scheme, or offer their own free in store take back of WEEE.
However, despite this seemingly straightforward system, concerns began to emerge through the inevitable bedding-in period. Over one year on, from the introduction of the Regulations, it is fair to say that these concerns were warranted.
First year challenges
The first compliance period of the Regulations brought with it some positive achievements, including the establishment of a collection infrastructure of more then 1,500 DCFs and confirmation that most councils in the UK had signed up to a PCS. The target collection weight of 4kg of WEEE per head was also beaten, with the latest statistics showing a UK achievement of over 6kg per head.
Absence of an allocation process
However, despite the positive achievements, the first compliance period also posed a number of challenges. The lack of a WEEE allocation centre – designed to match local authorities WEEE arising with PCS needs – was the first major stumbling block for PCSs to encounter. The absence of this process meant that it was ‘open season’ and some PCSs signed up as many DCFs as possible, without regard to how much WEEE would be collected in comparison to the PCSs market share. This meant that some schemes over-collected WEEE significantly in excess of their requirements, which prevented others from collecting what they needed, since the Regulations always require 100% of WEEE to be dealt with within each compliance period.
The over collection meant that come the end of the May 2008 – deadline for the first compliance period – many schemes were left with a shortage of WEEE evidence and mass trading was required to balance out the discrepancy which was not the intention of the Regulations, leaving the whole market open to uncertainty and potential exploitation.
 To ensure the same problem doesn’t happen again, the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) has issued all PCSs with clarification on the intentions of the Regulations.
Schedule 7, Part 4 of the Regulations, clearly states that the operator of a scheme must have viable plans to collect an amount of WEEE equivalent to the amount of WEEE for which the scheme will be responsible for financing under the Regulations.
In a letter, sent by the WEEE Policy Team just last month, the main focus was to highlight that all schemes should not be putting forward plans which result in significant over or under collection in relation to their obligations.
The correspondence also pointed out that this relates to amounts of WEEE collected and not the level of evidence obtained by schemes trading with each other.
It also confirmed that it is not acceptable for operational plans to centre on the trading of excess evidence, either during the compliance period, or in the settlement period up to the end of May 2009.
Evidence procedures
The two stage evidence process meant that PCSs faced delays in getting evidence notes for the amount of WEEE they had recycled. Treatment facilities are unable to issue evidence notes until stage two of the recycling process is complete. Stage two is when the secondary raw materials from reprocessing WEEE is either sold to be exported or sent to a reprocessor. The variability in secondary raw materials prices meant that very few evidence notes were issued during 2007, delaying trading and payment.
Data inaccuracies
Inaccurate data reporting for both WEEE arising and EEE sold made it difficult for producers and PCSs to plan and manage, and determine their likely costs, as the amount of WEEE arising became uncertain and scheme market shares varied. All PCSs are required to submit data on an ongoing basis, but it was clearly evident that there were different degrees of cross checking and accuracy relating to the figures submitted. Two major discrepancies were picked up during the first compliance period, and the environment agencies are now undertaking audits of all PCS to review their data reporting processes. A robust data reporting system and an ongoing audit process should ensure that going forward everyone will be able to plan and manage their own scheme with better quality and reliable information.
Retail impact?
Throughout the initial ‘bedding-in’ period, retailers also felt the impact. All major electrical retailers other than DSGi, elected to join the Distributor Take-back Scheme, where customers were encouraged to take their WEEE to their local DCF site. On the flip side, Dixons opted out of this scheme, providing the facility for customers to take their WEEE back to the store. Both options appear to have worked very well and BERR are looking for the retailers to now build on the achievements of this initial period.
For producers, who bear the biggest proportion of the cost, the Regulations have brought an additional challenge. The additional impact on costs in the supply chain caused by the implementation of the Regulations came at a time when transport, oil, energy and exchange rates increased, and this squeezed already slim margins even further.
Where are we now?
The next stage of the WEEE journey will be very much a transition period. BERR has issued all PCSs with clarification on their responsibilities, to ensure that over collection is reduced, while still ensuring all DCFs continue get cleared as required.
Councils are now looking to review existing short term WEEE contracts they initially set up and are planning to cement longer term deals with appropriate PCSs, now the future is a lot clearer and the initial challenges have been overcome. Pressure is being placed on PCS to ensure that they only collect WEEE in line with their scheme members’ obligations, and a simple guideline for a council to use to determine whether a PCS may be risking over-collecting is being produced. For every 1% overall market share a PCS has, it needs DCFs covering about 1% of the population. Councils just need to ask their current PCS what its share is, to ensure everyone is operating within the code of practice and therefore avoiding over collection and risking breaching its conditions of approval.
PCSs too are looking at ways to balance out the share of WEEE. REPIC continues to expand its WEEE collection arrangements with councils and retailers and has demonstrated its ability to effect seamless transitions and thereby eliminate any potential site disruption.
Everyone is now pulling in broadly the right direction and is committed to ensuring the continued success of the Regulations in the UK. Problems won’t be solved overnight, but going forward, REPIC believes that it will be a ‘managed process’ with support from the Government and all stakeholders that will ultimately make the UK Regulations a success and a flagship for the rest of the EU.

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