EU to make manufacturers responsible for recycling


Excessive regulation will make the European Union a less-attractive place for foreign investors, IBEC has warned after the European Parliament yesterday decided that manufacturers of electrical and electronic goods would have to pay for the recycling of their products.

Ms Mary Kelly, head of IBEC's environmental unit, warned: "For foreign investors looking to invest, I wouldn't say it would be the thing that would stop them, but it adds to the list of things you have to do in the regulatory framework and it's another thing you have to consider," she said.

The European Parliament has decided that companies should be responsible individually for the recycling of their products. Ms Kelly said it had not been clear until now whether there would be collective responsibility or whether companies would be responsible individually.

"The Department of the Environment was looking at this as a producer responsibility and they were going to approach the industry and ask how it wanted to handle this, rather than imposing some way of doing it," Ms Kelly explained.

"It's up to national governments but the principle is clear: consumers need to be able to take back electrical and electronic goods at the end of their lives and hand them in free of charge."

She said that by deciding on individual responsibility, responsible manufacturers would not end up paying to recycle products made by other companies or "orphan products" made by a manufacturer which has gone out of business.

The information and communications technology sector (ICT) is a major sector in Ireland - especially for products such as computers and mobile phones - while most of the "white" and "brown" goods (cookers, washing machines and televisions, for example) are imported but still have to be disposed of at the end of their working lives.

Total sales from the ICT sector in Ireland exceeded €34.3 billion last year, €31 billion of which were export sales. More than 82,000 people are employed in the industry here.

While no figures can be put on the cost to the industry in Ireland of recycling used electric and electronic goods, it is estimated by the EU engineering lobby, Orgalime, that it will cost the €500 billion industry some €15 billion a year across the Union.

"It's not something the electronics industry is looking for," Ms Kelly said. "It is going to put huge costs on the industry and, from the Irish perspective, there will need to be a lot of infrastructure put in place for the collection and recycling of goods.

"There are opportunities for people in the recycling business to set up with the Dell's and the Hewlet-Packard's of this world various schemes for taking back their products and stripping and making things out of it," she added.

She said companies looking to put products on EU markets now would have to have a bond or insurance so that recycling could be guaranteed in the event of that company going out of business.

The draft law adopted yesterday and heavily amended, now has to be approved finally by the EU governments which have already agreed to go ahead with what has been described as the biggest ever boost for recycling.