1. Take-back directives – A guide for economic operators to their responsibilities for the most commonly applicable EU Waste Laws
This article is meant to explain what we call Take-back directives. These are legislations that require that economic operators are involved in the collection, treatment and recycling of their products.
2. EU Waste Law
What we will call “Take-back Directives” in this article, is not a definition used by the EC in legislative texts, but is a term that we use as it intuitively summarises why they apply to manufacturers. From a legislative perspective, take-back directives are within the scope of the EU Waste laws, but most of the Waste laws do not apply to an individual product in any significant manner. Therefore, we discuss take-back directives, as these are the waste laws that require that manufacturers and other economic operators to, in some manner, take part in the recycling/waste-management process for those products.
The Waste Laws aims to create national systems for the collection, waste-management and recycling of waste products.
2.1. Extended Producer Responsibility
An additional system of responsibility for waste is the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR is implemented in some Waste Laws on an EU wide basis, while other laws encourage national systems for EPR to be implemented. EPR-systems require producers to be engaged in the management of their waste. This could be economically or actively participating in the collection of the waste.
For example, in Sweden the producers are collectively the owners of the materials, the infrastructure and the financing of the EPR-systems, which means that the collection of these materials is not paid for with taxes. This shifts the economic burden of the waste onto the actors placing the material on the market.
Identification of what waste is covered by EPRs in Sweden, and who is considered the waste producer. (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Extended Producer, Responsibility in Sweden, ISBN: 978-91-620-6944-5.)
2.2. Packaging and Packaging Waste
The Packaging and Packaging Waste directive (PPWD) does not apply directly to manufacturers, importers or distributors of products that use packaging material. Instead, the PPWD targets the manufacturing of the packaging material and the member states themselves, requiring them to implement measures to meet certain levels of reduction, recycling and reuse of packaging material.
2.2.1. Requirements from the directive
The manufacturers (and importers) of packaging materials must ensure that it meets the essential requirements in the composition and the reusable and recoverable, including recyclable, nature of packaging (PPWD, Annex II). For this goal, the EC has harmonised standards for these requirements to ensure the free transport of packaged goods on the internal market.
More relevant for most economic actors is the implementation of the PPWD in the individual member states. Of most importance for economic actors is the obligation for the member states to report the amount of packaging waste generated in their country. This obligation has led to most (if not all) member states implementing systems where “producers” of packaging material must report to the national authorities the amount of packaging used or manufactured. Due to the discrepancy between where packaging material is used and where it ends up as waste, the “producer” includes more than the actual manufacturer. Who exactly is responsible for reporting differs from country to country; it could be limited to the importer or include every operator in the supply chain (as in Sweden).
The directive does not require that packaging is labelled with any specific marks or symbols. The international symbol for recycling, the Möbius loop, has been used to create harmonised symbols to identify packaging materials. These symbols are voluntary for member states to implement, and so far only Italy and Bulgaria have made them mandatory.
Another symbol that is commonly used on packaging is The Green Dot. This logo is a trademark owned by PRO Europe s.r.l. (Packaging Recovery Organisation Europe). To use this symbol one must oblige to the user agreements of the national organisations. The symbol is meant to indicate that the producer of the packaging has reported to the/an appropriate system for packaging collection in accordance with the PPWD. So far, this symbol is only mandatory in Spain and Cyprus.
2.2.3. Obligations for compliance
- Only use packaging that complies with the essential requirements in the PPWD.
- Keep records of the amount of packaging material is used in transport, storage and sale of products.
- Report the amount packaging to national authorities in accordance with national legislation (in each country sold in/to).
- Apply labels correctly, either obligatory or voluntary.
2.3. Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment
One of the more common Take-back directives is the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive (WEEE). The aim is to reduce the environmental impact of EEE (Electrical and Electronic Equipment) that ends up as waste. WEEE applies to all electronics that fall within it’s 6 categories:
- Temperature exchange equipment (TEE)
- Screens and monitors
- Large EEE
- Small EEE
- Small IT and telecommunication equipment
But as is effectively shown by the decision tree presented by the European WEEE registers network (EWRN), this encompasses all EEE.
Decision tree for categorization of WEEE. (European WEEE registers network, The 6 Categories (Open Scope))
Even though all EEE fall within the categories, the directive has specified certain categories that are excluded from its scope:
- equipment which is necessary for the protection of the essential interests of the security of Member States
- equipment which is specifically designed and installed as part of another type of equipment that is excluded from or does not fall within the scope of this Directive, which can fulfil its function only if it is part of that equipment
- filament bulbs
- equipment designed to be sent into space
- large-scale stationary industrial tools
- large-scale fixed installations, except any equipment which is not specifically designed and installed as part of those installations
- means of transport for persons or goods, excluding electric two-wheel vehicles which are not type-approved
- non-road mobile machinery made available exclusively for professional use
- equipment specifically designed solely for the purposes of research and development that is only made available on a business-to-business basis
- medical devices and in vitro diagnostic medical devices, where such devices are expected to be infective prior to end of life, and active implantable medical devices
2.3.1. Requirements to register
The WEEE directive requires that all member states create a register of all producers of EEE in accordance with the scope of WEEE. Producers in this directive means whoever introduces the EEE within that member state, be it an importer from a third country or a seller in another member state, whoever sells an EEE directly to a consumer in the first member state.
Whoever introduces the EEE in a member state must register it to the national authorities. This means that a manufacturer selling only a single unit of EEE into a second member state must register with their national authorities. But an economic actor can only register in the member state where they are established. So they must either mandate an Authorised Representative in that member state to register, or go through a business in that member state that can take over the producer responsibility.
2.3.2. Requirements to label
EEE must not be disposed of with municipal waste; instead, it must be sorted according to appropriate national systems for collection. To inform all end-users about the requirement to sort the EEE separately, it must be labelled with the crossed-out wheeled bin. For products placed on the market after 2005, either the black bar underneath the mark or the date of placing on the market must also be placed on the product. Preferably the application of the label should conform to the standard EN 50419.
2.3.3. Requirements to inform end-users
The WEEE directive leaves the decision on whether or not economic operators are obliged to inform end-users about WEEE to the individual member states. The directive is not specific in what member states are allowed to require, so giving a general scheme for compliance for this is not possible. In registering to the national authorities, requirements for information should also be gathered from said national authorities.
2.3.4. Obligations for compliance
- Register at national authorities where the product is sold.
- Mandate an Authorised Representative if selling directly to customers in a second country.
- Label product with the crossed-out wheeled bin.
- Provide information to the user as is required by national authorities.
2.4. Batteries and accumulators
A Take-back directive closely linked to WEEE is the Batteries directive, which includes accumulators. It defines requirements for producers of batteries, to minimise the negative environmental impact they have as waste. A producer of batteries is defined as the person or corporation who supplies the battery for the first time on a professional basis in that member state. For this definition, it does not matter whether the battery is included in an appliance, vehicle or not.
Just as with the PPWD, the Batteries directive includes requirements for the batteries themselves and not just take-back responsibilities.
2.4.1. Requirements to register
The directive requires that member states ensure that each producer is registered at the national registry of battery producers. Since a producer is defined as the operator that introduces the battery on the market in a member state; selling batteries directly to end-users in a second country requires registration in that second country.
The directive allows member states to exempt producers of very small quantities of batteries on national markets. What counts as such a producer is up to the member states to identify. In registering to the national authorities, the national system for small producers can be checked.
2.4.2. Requirements for batteries
All batteries, except for emergency systems, alarm systems and medical devices, are disallowed from containing more than 0.0005% (wt.) of mercury and 0.002% (wt.) of cadmium. Batteries with a lead content above 0.004% (wt.) must be labelled with the chemical symbol (Pb). When mercury and cadmium contents are above-disallowed levels, when this is allowed they must also be labelled with their respective chemical symbols Hg and Cd.
All batteries must also be labelled with the crossed-out wheeled bin similar to the WEEE symbol, but not identical. As seen above, the WEEE symbol has a bar under the bin, symbolising that the EEE was put to the market after 2005. But as the WEEE symbol contains the battery symbol it counts as both, so an EEE with batteries only needs the WEEE symbol.
Both portable and automotive batteries are obliged by the directive to be visibly labelled with their capacity. But there are technical difficulties in creating a uniform methodology in assessing and presenting the capacity for non-rechargeable batteries. So even though the directive requires portable non-rechargeable batteries to be labelled with their capacity, this is not enforced (only for non-rechargeable portable batteries). .
2.4.3. Requirements to inform
The Batteries directive leaves the decision on whether or not economic operators are obliged to inform end-users about the Batteries directive to the individual member states. The directive is not specific in what member states are allowed to require, so giving a general scheme for compliance for this is not possible. In registering to the national authorities, requirements for information should also be gathered from said national authorities.
2.4.4. Obligations for compliance
- Register at national authorities where the product is sold.
- Label product with the crossed-out wheeled bin, capacity and appropriate chemical symbols.
- Follow the restrictions on mercury and cadmium.
- Provide information to the user as is required by national authorities.
3. Key takeaways
These directives do not have identical structures or requirements, but it is evident that they apply producer responsibilities in similar ways. Since the European Commission has delegated how major parts of these directives should be implemented to the member states, complying with the requirements for the entire EEA market is a complex task. The summaries of the directives above are a good start for understanding the frameworks and should help you as a producer to understand what tasks must be performed.
As the producer you need to:
- Understand your obligations in each country you sell your products in.
- Register as a producer nationally.
- Register the amount of waste you produce according to the national scheme (monthly/quarterly/every six months/yearly).
- Inform about the collection of your waste according to the national requirements.
- Label your products/packaging according to EU and national requirements.
- Understand the need to appoint an Authorised Representative.
- If needed, appoint an Authorised Representative.
Want to know more?
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