Electronic waste row set to boil over

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Series Details Vol 7, No.7, 15.2.01, p22
Publication Date 15/02/2001
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Date: 15/02/01


SIMMERING tensions among electronics producers could boil over as Euro-MPs prepare to back tough laws forcing firms to pay to recycle their own products.

Industry is divided over a report by German centre-right MEP Karl-Heinz Florenz that calls for each electronics brand to be responsible for its own recycling costs - which industry fears could run into tens of billions of euro.

Under the original European Commission proposal, EU countries would be free to choose whether firms would be billed individually or pay a fraction of overall costs according to their market share.

Florenz's draft report also slaps a 50% increase on the Commission's recycling targets and makes them legally binding.

"The Commission's proposal was not very ambitious," said Florenz. "We know that there are some countries - including the UK, Germany and the Nordics - who are already meeting their targets of 4kg per person."

The report distinguishes between 'historical' products - sold before the new rules come into force - and appliances marketed under the new regime. Manufacturers would share the costs of collecting and stripping down the older models, but processing of new appliances would be billed to the producer.

The proposals are bound to deepen industry divisions. The producers' federation Orgalime estimates the cost to industry for new waste alone at around €7.5 billion per year.

Another group, CECED, says the majority of its members oppose individual responsibility. But a dissenting CECED member, Electrolux, is spearheading a campaign in favour of the Florenz proposals, backed by ten other blue-chip firms including Sony, Ericsson and Intel.

"If we just paid for everything collectively, there would be no incentive to do better - the costs would be the same for everybody," said one industry source.

But CECED secretary general Luigi Meli believes that individual payment schemes would be a huge mistake. "The theoretical benefit would be totally outrun by the logistics," he said. "For a niche producer, collecting all over Europe would impose huge costs."

Environmentalists argue that unless producers pay their way, small firms will be unable to reap the benefits of their innovation.

Insiders predict a long stand-off between MEPs and environment ministers, with some governments reluctant to accept binding targets.

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