WEEE Responsibility

times_of_malta196x703

published on 23 May 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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The Nationalist Party’s and Alternattiva Demokratika’s 2008 electoral manifestos proposed the free distribution of energy-saving light bulbs in order to encourage energy conservation but with a difference!

Prior to that, in London, the then Labour mayor Ken Livingstone had, as part of the London Climate Change Action Plan in January 2008, launched a “light bulb amnesty” as a result of which each London household could exchange a traditional incandescent light bulb for an energy-e fficient one.

The public in Malta should be informed not only of the benefits but also as to the advisable precautions relative to the use of these energy-saving light bulbs or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

The use of CFLs, notwithstanding their price, saves about 75 per cent of electrical energy used for lighting purposes by traditional bulbs.

An educational campaign relative to breakages and disposal of CFLs is essential.

Damage to the CFL can release mercury dust to air. In other countries users have been advised that they are to vacate and ventilate rooms for about 15 minutes when CFL breakages occur. This is essential to avoid inhaling mercury dust. It is imperative that in homes and, in particular, in areas where children and the elderly and/or sick people gather, those in charge are aware as to the measures they should take. Advice is also called for as to the cleaning of the resulting breakages and the manner in which the damaged CFL is to be disposed of.

It is to be borne in mind that, due to their containing about four milligrams of mercury dust per light bulb, CFLs are subject to the provisions of the EU WEEE Directive (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment). This directive has been transposed into Maltese legislation through Legal Notice 63 of 2007 but it is not yet being implemented.

The EU established the framework for dealing with hazardous waste resulting from electric and electronic equipment and applied thereto the principle of producer responsibility. This means that producers and distributors (irrespective of the selling technique used) are directly responsible for the handling of this type of waste.

The government has the role of a regulator, ensuring that EU legislation is adhered to within Maltese territory. Being an EU member in my view, at least, signifies this much in addition to harping on the availability of EU funds, which assist us in attaining objectives of a better quality of life. The WEEE Directive had to be implemented in various stages between 2004 and 2006 and the Maltese government was in breach of its provisions, so much so that the EU Commission had already initiated infringement procedures against Malta due to the delay in transposing it into Maltese law.

The recently-published update to the Maltese Waste Management Strategy for public consultation postponed once more consideration of the plans for the implementation of the WEEE Directive in Malta.

Within this context, the placing of over one million CFLs in one go on the market without having in place a waste management strategy for hazardous waste is surely not environmentally responsible. While addressing the issue of energy consumption, the government is creating an equally serious problem by encouraging the use of hazardous materials without having first ensured that the required waste management infrastructure is in place and functioning.

The responsibility is not just the government’s. It has to be equally shouldered by producers and distributors who, unless they act fast, may eventually have to carry the can and pay the fines due for not assuming their producer responsibilities. Taxpayers’ monies should not be used to bail out those who have failed to shoulder their responsibilities.

Those who have advised local distributors that the management of hazardous waste is a government responsibility would do well to reconsider their position. This is an area the EU has assigned to the private sector, which must ensure that the impacts of all products it places on the market are addressed. In fact, the WEEE Directive, in addition to responsibility for today’s hazardous waste, also assigns to producers and distributors responsibility for historical waste, that is responsibility for WEEE waste generated prior to the implementation of the directive.

The point at issue is clearly the eco contribution payable on a number of electric and electronic products. Maltese business is correct in complaining that it has been shouldered with a double responsibility: responsibility for WEEE waste and simultaneous payment of eco contribution. This, however, does not exonerate businesses from putting in place a collection system for WEEE waste (including CFLs).

By failing to revisit the eco contribution regime, the government is obstructing business from moving on to shoulder its producer responsibilities. Further procrastination will not make matters any easier. It is in everybody’s interest that business conforms to its WEEE responsibilities and for that to happen the government must get out of the way.

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