EU waste rules now cover anything with a plug or battery. Here's what companies need to know

The so-called WEEE directive is great for the environment, but firms across Ireland have to comply.

By Elizabeth O'Reilly WEEE Ireland

AS SOME SECTORS of Irish industry show cautious recovery, business owners and managers may be considering investing in new areas of technology or importing and distributing different product lines.

What some business owners may not be aware of, however, is the responsibility and obligation to ensure compliance with consumer health and safety regulations throughout and across their supply chains.

Businesses are now required to accept extended producer responsibility up to and beyond the lifespan of a product, a requirement which has become applicable to an ever-growing number of Irish and EU businesses over the last two decades.

While the EU’s ‘waste electrical and electronic equipment’ (WEEE) directive has direct environmental benefits, the path to sustainability is also one that can place an administrative and financial burden on businesses, particularly those that are unaware or unequipped to deal with their requirements.

Packaging, electrical and electronic appliances, batteries and even cars are examples of products that are subject to producer responsibility initiatives in Ireland as required under European environmental directives.

The initiatives mean manufacturers, brand owners, importers, distributors and retailers all have sets of responsibilities.

These can include ensuring products don’t contain certain amounts of hazardous materials or meeting applicable emissions and\or energy consumption limits, but importantly they also include the responsibility to finance environmental management of products at the end of their lives to ensure the customer can dispose of these in a sound manner.

In most cases, this means recycling to recover the material for use again in manufacturing. Under the new European ‘circular economy plan’, it also means reusing products, preparing for reuse through refurbishment and preventing as much product becoming waste as possible in the first instance.

It may also mean new and innovative ways of consumer consumption that don’t involve ownership of goods at all – leasing our washing machines and driers, or buying ‘light as a service’, rather than owning lighting equipment.

Here are the answers to some of the key questions Irish businesses are likely to have about the rules:

1. What businesses and products are affected by WEEE regulations in Ireland?

Any product with a plug or a battery and any business that manufactures or distributes them. There are very few exceptions, unless you are developing a product for use in space, in the army or it is a large-scale fixed installation such as an escalator.

This covers both manufacturers and distributors of goods ranging from large household appliances to IT equipment, toys, tools, lighting and virtually every other kind of consumer technology you can think of.

2. What’s the summary impact for businesses who need to comply?

The directive requires suppliers of electrical and electronic equipment to organise and finance the recovery and recycling of e-waste from the marketplace in which they operate.

A sister piece of legislation, the ‘restriction of hazardous substances’ directive, curbs the use of certain hazardous substances in appliance manufacturing. It means suppliers are responsible for checking with their upstream vendors that parts and components used in manufacturing do not contain, for example, high quantities of lead or mercury.

Downstream, they must ensure there are take-back systems for their customers to recycle appliances when they come to dispose of them. That could be 10 to 15 years after a product is sold, so it is a long-term commitment to producer responsibilities throughout the lifecycle of the product.

3. Are there associated costs for businesses?

Yes, there are annual registration costs and also costs relating to the environmental management of the e-waste and waste batteries that compliance schemes charge their members or the producers themselves.

They are retrospective, so a producer could find themselves having to pay registration costs for sales in previous months or years if they are not aware of the need to register and report as soon as items are placed onto the Irish market.

4. Do the regulations apply for e-commerce?

Yes. All retailers of electrical appliances including online sellers have obligations to take back items for recycling from customers on a like-for-like basis.

This includes on delivery of new appliances and is something that should be taken into consideration when planning distribution models, particularly through the post or by courier for small electrical items.

Websites and advertisements also need to include specific wording on take-back for recycling of waste equipment and batteries, and registration numbers need to be displayed online.

5. What about appliances and technology I am using in my business?

You should always ensure you are purchasing from a registered supply chain and that you have options to bring the old appliance or piece of tech you are replacing for recycling if it can no longer be used.

Consumers can bring waste to numerous collection points around the country including electrical retailers, and if you buy online make sure to ask about the free take-back solution that should be in place for your old appliance.

Due diligence is required for businesses particularly when it comes to disposing of older technologies as you are responsible for the removal of data and sensitive information that you control. Making sure waste is stored safely and securely is paramount if it is to go through a quality recovery system.

6. Are there other businesses that should be aware of the regulations?

Builders and installers, or those involved in refurbishing commercial properties, should be aware when tendering that the electrical lighting, smoke detectors and even photo voltaic cells in solar panel technology all fall under the directive.

If they are buying from outside Ireland, companies could find themselves with direct producer responsibilities and costs if the supply chain is not registered. UK-based suppliers must register directly in Ireland.

Elizabeth O’Reilly is compliance and membership manager for WEEE Ireland, which represents over 900 firms that bring electrical appliances onto the local market.

If you want to share your opinion, advice or story, email opinion@fora.ie.

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