Unlike RoHS, which restricts usage of heavy metals in electronics, the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive has several elements, each having an on electronics importers in the European Union. Among there are recycling contribution schemes, dismantling design requirements, and labelling requirements. We will get back to those in a bit, but first you might want to know which product categories are within the scope of regulation.
|Large household appliances||Refrigerators, Freezers, Washing Machines, Electric Stoves, Microwaves, Heating Appliances|
|Small household appliances||Vacuum cleaners, toasters, irons, sewing machines, watches and clocks|
|IT & Telecom||Printers, Laptop Computers, Phones, Tablet Computers, Fax Machines|
|Consumer equipment||Radios, TV sets, Video Cameras and recorders, Audio Equipment, Musical Instruments, Other Displays|
|Lighting equipment||Lamps, Bulb Lights|
|Electronic tools||Saws, Welding Machinery, Drills, Cutting Machinery, Gardening Tools|
|Toys, leisure and sports||Video game consoles and accessories, Electric sports equipment, Electric toys|
|Medical devices||Laboratory equipment, Radiotherapy equipment|
As hinted by the table above, If your business is importing electronics within the European Union, the WEEE directive is having an impact on your business. However, note that the table above is not listing all categories, or products, within its scope of regulations. For a more comprehensive list, click here.
Eco-Design and Product Dismantling Requirements
The design for dismantling (also known as design for recycling, or design for disassembly) includes the practices to optimize the way how a product will be treated at end of life, and to optimize the separation of components and materials for their recovery (repair, recycling, energy recovery). The design for dismantling applies equally to a product to be disassembled as for products intended to undergo a grinding step.
Considerations are particularly related to choice and combination of different materials that compose a product but also to the assembly and mechanical connections between components and subassemblies of the product. Source
The WEEE directive requires products to be designed in a way that simplifies the dismantling, for either recycling or further usage. As WEEE covers such a large number of products, there are, at least as of today, no technical requirements applicable to each product. As such, it’s up to the ‘producer’ (i.e., the importing company, when the supplier is located outside of the European Union) to ensure that the product is designed in compliance. For example, this may include the following:
- Removable batteries
- Easy separation of electrical components
- Easy separation of different materials (e.g. metal alloys and plastic)
For Startups and Small businesses, lacking the technical capability, or budget, to develop OEM products, or at least modify an existing factory design, this poses a major challenge. My best advice for this group of buyers is to make a compliance assessment based on factory samples. However, most Chinese electronics manufacturers are, for natural reasons, not concerned with ensuring said design compliance. As always, Western buyers must strictly limit their supplier selection to those with an existing compliance track record.
WEEE Labelling Requirements
Take a good look at your phone or laptop charger. The WEEE symbol, as seen on the right, indicates separate collection and recycling. The WEEE mark is mandatory for most electronics, imported and sold within the EU.
The WEEE mark must be clearly visible on the product itself, and its packaging, unless this is deemed to be impractical. Also note that the WEEE mark is not a replacement for a CE mark, which indicates compliance with all other, applicable, EN directives.
When buying from China, never leave the product labelling in the hands of the manufacturers. Provide all graphics files, including labels, directly to the supplier, rather than making the assumption that they’ll ‘get it right’. After all, your business is taking the heat if the products turn out to be improperly labelled.
WEEE Registrations and Yearly Contributions
In addition to dismantling design and labelling requirements, the WEEE directive also sets yearly ‘recycling contribution’ requirements, for importers and distributors. In practice, this means that your company must pay its fair share to finance the recycling network, on a yearly basis. These recycling fees are based on yearly sales volume, usually counted in tons.
There are certain limitations though. For example, in the United Kingdom, the yearly contribution only applies to companies with yearly sales volumes equivalent of at least 5 tonnes:
A small producer must join a PCS (producer compliance scheme ) within 28 days of placing more than 5 tonnes of EEE on the market in any compliance period.
What I must also mention at this point, is that the WEEE Directive is implemented individually by each EU member state, according to its own ‘national producer compliance scheme’. As such, the implementation may differ, to a varying degree, between different EU member states.
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