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Businesses dealing in electronic devices that fail to live up to their obligations to accept returns of equipment stipulated by law face juicy fines beginning in June 2017 at the latest. Adopted last November, the revised Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (Elektrogesetz) requires for the first time specific proof of quantities beginning in April of this year. Failure to abide by its stipulations is punishable by fines of up to 100,000 euros. According to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, enforcement is to be strengthened and law-abiding commercial enterprises protected against free riders. All commercial establishments with store, warehouse and shipping spaces of 400 m2 and above are subject to the obligation to accept returns.
The Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act [ElektroG] is the German transposition of the European WEEE Directive regulating the introduction on the market, return and recycling of electrical and electronic devices. The German Federal Ministry for the Environment is in charge at the policy level. Legal and technical supervision as well as monitoring of the market is in the hands for the Federal Environmental Agency. The aim and objective is to permanently boost the quantity of electrical and electronic devices returns taken back by at least 65 per cent for all new equipment introduced in commerce beginning in 2018. This will save on resources and the environment.
“WEEE Return helps business implement statutory requirements, from IT support to the provision of suitable container systems, collection, transport and recycling all the way to reporting,”
is how Gerhard Jokic, Managing Director of WEEE Return, sums it up
In actual practice, acceptance of returns by businesses is lagging, however, as the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act have thus far not provided for any sanctions on refusal to accept returns. This impression is not least corroborated by store and online checks carried out by Deutsche Umwelthilfe and testberichte.de. Thus, for example, Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) has already sent the first admonishments to companies that register high levels of sales revenue like IKEA and Amazon and announced additional campaigns, but for the time being is not resorting to court action.
The new arrangement is additionally complicated by a restriction with hazy wording. Accordingly, the obligation to accept returns is to be limited to five used devices per device type if no new equipment is purchased. The draft act leaves completely unresolved, however, whether this is supposed to mean five devices per year, per end user or per request for acceptance of return. The draft act and statements by various delegates to the German parliament suggest, however, that five respective used devices per return transaction are meant. Theoretically, consumers could thus demand that businesses accept returns of five used devices every day anew without purchasing any new device, even if this scenario appears unrealistic. For businesses, this change in stipulations is especially important, as it means that the list of fines under the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act is being expanded. In the future, it will be deemed to constitute an administrative offence if a business does not take back a used device, or does not do so correctly, completely or in due time. Such cases are subject to hefty fines of up to 100,000 euros.
The objective is to permanently boost the quantity of electronic and electrical equipment returned to over 65 per cent of all new equipment introduced in commerce beginning in 2018. This will save on resources and the environment
At a special conference on “Enforcement and Further Development of Product Responsibility 2017” staged in Berlin on 19 January, consequences and recommended actions for the sector were discussed. The participants were largely in agreement that various regulations like the Electronic and Electrical Equipment Act and the Battery Act should be comprised together in the same law in order to boost transparency and optimise enforcement.
Moreover, the branch issued a plea for public-relations work to be made part of product responsibility in order to better inform consumers. Considerable need to catch up is seen with regard to the enforcement of the regulation. Stricter controls on registration, notification and monitoring are held to be crucial preconditions for effective implementation of the regulation with the objective of countering the flagrant “disappearance” of old equipment.
At present, professional return systems are gearing up to ease worries on the part of business enterprises over costly sanctions being imposed on them, including WEEE Return, which is based in Berlin. Its Managing Director, Gerhard Jokic, is offering to help out interested businesses. “WEEE Return helps the trade implement statutory requirements, from IT support to the provision of suitable container systems, the collection, transport and recycling all the way to reporting,” according to Jokic, and recommends that businesses introducing electronic and electrical equipment in the market should definitely seek professional support with regard to the collection and recycling of used equipment.
WEEE Return provides retailers with the help they need, ensuring they avoid the heavy fines. Learn more here (German only)