LGA submission to Defra consultation on reforming the producer responsibility system for waste electronic and electrical equipment 2023

Polluters, not councils, should pick up the cost of dealing with the increasingly complex and hazardous waste stream of electrical items. The producer responsibility scheme needs to be reformed and changes that can be made within existing regulations, such as creating a new category for vapes, should be implemented without further delay.

Summary and key points

The evidence for reform of the producer responsibility scheme for electrical items is compelling. Defra notes that 155,000 tonnes of small waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) are disposed of in residual waste annually. This is a problem for waste disposal and for the environment due to the hazardous nature of electrical waste. There is danger to human health and the environment from exposure to chemicals commonly found in electrical items, such as chemicals used in fire retardants, arsenic, lead and asbestos in older appliances. 

Polluters, not councils, should pick up the cost of dealing with the increasingly complex and hazardous electrical waste stream. The current producer responsibility scheme for waste electrical items is limited in what it pays for, and it does not address consumer behaviour or maximise the opportunity to retrieve and reuse valuable materials. The proposals in the consultation should go further and faster. 

In response to Defra’s proposals:

  • All producers should be responsible for financing kerbside collection of small electric items. It is not fair to expect council taxpayers to finance the cost. The use of short-term grants and bidding competitions to fund council run kerbside collections must end. Switching to a model of long-term funding from producers will help to create the conditions for investment in recycling infrastructure.
  • Producers should fund bulky waste collections for householders for large electrical items
  • Producers should be responsible for any electrical item returned to a point of collection
  • The producer responsibility scheme should place all producers on an equal footing, and the scope of the scheme should be widened to include items sold outside the UK and delivered by online platforms
  • Vapes should have a separate category in the WEEE scheme. At the same time, government must get on with the implementation of the ban on disposable vapes.

Where changes can be made within existing regulations, such as creating a new category for vapes in the WEEE Scheme, these should be implemented without further delay. 

The consultation paper focuses on the collection system for recycling electrical waste, and while that is important, we must also consider what more can be done to prevent waste and encourage repair and reuse. Designing electrical products with the intention for them to have a long lifespan would reduce the pressure on recycling, although this could increase the cost of manufacture and raise prices. We need to understand the trade-offs and ensure that there is a coherent thread through legislation relating to product design, retail,  consumer use and disposal. 

We welcome further conversations with Defra and producers on how this could be supported and funded through producer responsibility, and partnerships with local authorities. 

Response to consultation questions

Increasing collections of waste electrical and electronic equipment from households

Question 6: Do you agree that producers (and distributors that do not provide their own take-back services for electric and electronic goods) should finance collections of small WEEE (for example, toasters, small toys and tools), from households? 

We agree with the principle of obligating producers to pay for the cost of kerbside collection for small electrical items. The cost shunt from producers on to local authorities must be replaced by a fair and sustainable producer responsibility scheme. Creating confidence in a long-term funding solution will help to support investment in infrastructure by councils and the recycling industry. 

Defra’s proposal will exempt producers from paying for kerbside collection if they provide their own take-back service in store. There is a place for take-back schemes as part of the collection system and producers must be proactive in offering choices for returning small electrical items. However, this should not remove or replace producer responsibility for kerbside collection. If the costs to producers of providing both take-back and kerbside collection are a concern this could be addressed in the system of producer fees, rather than through an exemption. 

All producers should be obligated, regardless of whether they provide a takeback service. 

Question 7: please provide any evidence you have to support your answer to question 6. 

The existing producer compliance scheme requires producers to cover the cost of  collection and treatment of electrical items returned to a household waste and recycling centre (HWRC), but there is no obligation to fund kerbside collection. 

According to Defra’s consultation paper 86 councils are providing a kerbside collection service for small electrical items. This should be funded by producers, but in practice the cost is being met by council taxpayers.

Material Focus administers the electrical recycling fund, which provides limited financial support for kerbside collection. The scheme requires an application process, grants are capped at £100,000, and are allocated on a one-off basis. This is a short-term sticking plaster that does not address the scale of the problem. It is unreasonable to expect councils to bid competitively for small pots of money for a service that needs long term support from producers. 

Where take back-schemes operate, for example for vapes, it is difficult to obtain information on the amount of material that is sent for recycling or whether they are actively promoted to shoppers.

Questions 8 – 10 on the frequency of service 

Question 8 assumes that there is an ideal collection frequency that suits all residents in urban and rural settings. In practice, a decision about frequency needs to be based on the needs of residents, the type of housing stock in the area, and the cost of providing the service.

The best solution is to allow for local flexibility, allowing councils to draw on their local knowledge. Different collection frequencies are already likely to be offered to different property types such as kerbside, HMOs, purpose-built flats and flats above shops.

Question 11. What should items qualifying for this service be defined by?

                 a) Weight b) dimension

Neither. The definition must be easily understood by residents and not present a barrier to recycling. It may be more helpful to mirror the advice that many councils provide to residents and require items for kerbside collection to fit into a standard carrier bag. 

Question 12. Please specify any products that, due to their properties, should be excluded from the small WEEE household collection services. Question 13. For any products listed in response to question 12, what measures should be put in place to drive up levels of their separate collection to minimise disposal in residual waste? 

Producers should take more responsibility for the safety of their products, particularly on the use of chemicals that are under consideration for inclusion in the official list  of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Defra’s recent consultation on amendments to POPs regulations indicated that a fire-retardant chemical used in cables and the housing of televisions could be included in future legislation on POPs. 

Avoiding hazards in the first place is a better option than adding expense and complexity to collection systems. Prevention should be built into the design process for the producer responsibility scheme. 

Question 14: Do you agree or disagree that producers (and distributors that do not provide their own take-back services) should finance collection of large WEEE? Question 15. Please provide any evidence to support your answer. 

Agree. Producers must show leadership and commitment to removing any barriers to recycling as well as taking on the cost of collection.

Where take-back services are provided they must be free and convenient for the householder. We encourage producers to go further than the proposals in the consultation and offer rewards and incentives for returning large electrical items. 

Question 16: Do you agree or disagree that a producer-led Scheme Administrator, approved by government, is best placed to determine the most practical and efficient delivery mechanism to manage producer obligations to finance small and large WEEE collections from households? 

We agree that the proposed expansion of the scheme would require additional capacity in the producer responsibility framework to ensure that producers pay the full net cost of recycling and disposal, and distribute funding to councils. 

We neither agree nor disagree that the new model should be a producer-led scheme administrator. The Scheme administrator could equally be part of a government department, and this may need further consideration if some of the scheme administrator’s functions, such as payments to local authorities, need governance from a public body. The starting point should be to ensure that producers and retailers are joining a producer responsibility scheme and paying in a fair amount. We will return to this point in the section on vapes. 

If a new body is required it should be co-produced by producers, Defra and local government. The LGA would be happy to work with Defra and producers on this and we welcome an early conversation. 

Question 17. Please provide any evidence to support your answer.

Nothing further to add. 

Question 18 to 20: Do you agree or disagree that the most efficient and cost-effective delivery of the obligation to provide a regular household collection service for small WEEE and bulky waste collections for large WEEE is likely to be achieved through partnerships between a Scheme Administrator and Local Authorities and their waste management partners? 

We agree that partnerships with local authorities is likely to be the most cost effective and efficient way for producers to fulfil the obligation. 

Early engagement with local authorities will help to ensure a shared understanding of the costs. 

Question 21: Do you agree or disagree with the analysis of this proposal set out in the accompanying impact assessment?

Question 22: Please provide any evidence to support your answer.

Question 23: Are there other means of delivering a cost effective and efficient household collection service to that described in question 18, with alternative delivery partners to Local Authorities and if so, what might that look like?

Councils provide waste collection services to every household across a range of materials. It is hard to imagine that another provider could match this in terms of the quality of service and cost efficiency.  

Question 24. Please provide any other comments and supporting evidence on the proposal for producers (and distributors that do not provide take-back services) to finance a system of kerbside collection of small WEEE and on-demand collections of large WEEE for households?

No further comments.

Questions 25 to 26. Producers who place less than 5 tonnes of equipment on the UK market each year are exempt from financial obligations under the WEEE Regulations. Does that 5-tonne threshold remain appropriate? Please select one of the following options:

No, because a weight-based measure does not take into account the value or the material or the harm that it can do if not captured for recycling, for example lighter items such as vapes. The obligation should not be focused solely on weight. 

27. Are there alternative, non-regulatory approaches that could be established to increase separate collection of WEEE from households for re-use and recycling? If so, please describe what this might look like.

Yes, producers should not just focus on the bare minimum of funding separate collections. They need to go further and provide solutions that incentivise people to recycle waste electricals and provide the same convenience as shopping and delivery. This could include deposit schemes, financial incentives for recycling and additional return points outside the home. For example, the collection lockers provided at locations like train stations could be used for recycling returns. 

Increasing distributor collections infrastructure

28. Do you agree or disagree that internet sellers and retailers should provide a free of charge “collection on delivery service”, requiring the free takeback of large domestic appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, freezers and TVs? 


29. If you answered agree to question 28, should there be a reasonable time frame stipulated in which the unwanted item should be collected to allow for circumstances where it is not available for collection at time of delivery? 

Yes, and this should be designed to support the consumer rather than the convenience of the retailer. 

30. If you answered yes to question 29, what should those timeframes be?

This should be determined locally as there is not an ideal timeframe that will work in all areas and for all types of property. 

31. If you answered agree to question 28, should this service be extended to collection of smaller items when a large item is collected? If so, should this be subject to reasonable limits in terms of how many items can be returned at once? Please select one of the following options:

Yes, and there should not be a limit. However, it would be reasonable for collector to have information in advance in order to manage capacity on the collection vehicle. 

32 and 33. Should retailers selling new household appliances as part of a new kitchen also be obligated to take away the old appliances from the household free of charge? 

Yes. This would reduce the chance of old appliances being fly-tipped. National statistics on fly-tipping provide evidence on fly-tipping incidents and the cost to councils, as referenced in the consultation document. 

34. Do you agree or disagree that we should extend the existing take-back requirements for large retailers from 1:1 to a 0:1 basis i.e. by removing the requirement to purchase an item for the take-back obligation to apply? Please select one of the following options:

Retailers should allow any electrical item to be returned in store, and through other types of take-back services where possible. 

The remainder of the questions in this section are more relevant to producers and retailers than local government. We are not able to comment on the detail, but in principle we support all activity that makes returning an electrical item as easy and buying it. Producers and retailers must show leadership and where voluntary activity is not making a difference, government or the scheme administrator must step in to require action. 

New producer obligations for Online Marketplaces and Fulfilment Houses

We support Defra in the proposal that online marketplaces should be required to fulfil the producer obligations on behalf of their overseas sellers. This would close a loophole in the system that allow companies based overseas to sell their electrical products to UK customers through an online marketplace or fulfilment house without taking any responsibility for the cost of recycling and disposal. 

This is a fairer distribution of costs, and will avoid placing costs on UK businesses who are paying into the producer responsibility scheme, and councils as the last resort for capturing any items escaping into the waste stream through fly-tipping and residual waste. 

Dealing with the environmental impact of vaping products

Question 63: Do you agree with the proposal to create a new category for vapes? 

Agree. The use of electronic cigarettes has increased sharply and research by Material Focus indicates that 5 million disposable vapes are thrown away each week. 

All types of electronic cigarettes contain materials that are harmful to the environment, such as plastic and liquids containing hazards such as nicotine and other compounds. The producer fee for products in category 7 does not reflect the cost of recycling vapes and the additional cost of dealing with vapes in litter and the residual waste stream. 

The recent announcement of a ban on disposable vapes is welcome and necessary due to the negative impacts on children’s health and the environment. 

Question 64. What additional costs will accrue to producers, compliance schemes and regulators as a result of creating a new category of vapes?

No comment. 

Question 65. Are there any other measures beyond those for eco-modulation and littering set out in the call for evidence you think government should take to curb the environmental impact of vapes?

The lack of compliance with producer responsibility schemes is a serious concern. 

Recent research has found that more than 90% of smaller UK vape and vape juice producers are not registered under waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations. The Environment Agency is responsible for taking enforcement action against producers who fail to register for the scheme. 

In addition, the incoming ban on disposable vapes must ensure that the definition of disposable is locked down and avoids the potential for producers to exploit loopholes, including producers adding a USB port to disposable vapes to bypass  these restrictions

System governance, the creation of a WEEE scheme administrator and performance  indicators

Question 66. Do you agree or disagree with the principle of establishing government approved producer-led scheme administrator to carry out specified functions in the reformed WEEE system? 

Neither agree nor disagree. The Scheme administrator could equally be part of a government department, and this may need further consideration if some of the scheme administrator’s functions, such as payments to local authorities, need to be carried out by a public body.

The starting point should be to ensure that producers are joining a producer responsibility scheme and paying in a fair amount. 

It may be a better use of time and resources to make the current system more transparent, close the loopholes and take robust enforcement against the producers who are not meeting their obligations.