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The ElektroG from the perspective of distributors

With the amendment of the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG) the German legislature has implemented the requirements of the EU Directive 2012/19 on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE directive). The ElektroG (Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act) regulates the sale, return and environmentally friendly disposal of electrical and electronic equipment. As in other countries of the European Union this makes it mandatory for the German trade to accept the return of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

What are the objectives of the ElektroG?

The ElektroG (Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act) regulates the sale, return and environmentally friendly disposal of electrical and electronic equipment.

The act is aimed at the protection of the environment and health. The act is meant to ensure that in future less WEEE is disposed of in the household waste. Harmful substances are separated and recyclable materials are recovered when handled via certified disposal routes. This way natural resources are conserved.

Moreover, the act is aimed at increasing the recycling rate and the combating of illegal exports of WEEE abroad.

How are brick-and-mortar retailers and online trade affected?

How are brick-and-mortar retailers and online trade affected? According to previously applicable law, dealers may only offer electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) for sale if the manufacturer has properly registered these products at the stiftung ear (register of waste electrical and electronic equipment foundation).

If distributors have a sales area for electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) of at least 400m², they are obliged to take back WEEE in accordance with the amendment. This take-back obligation also applies to online traders with a shipping and storage area for electrical and electronic equipment of more than 400m². This is calculated according to the actual shelf space.

The take-back obligation is as follows:

1:1 return: Obligation to take back the WEEE when selling a new device with comparable functionality.

0:1 return: Obligation not dependent on a sale to take back electrical and electronic equipment with a maximum edge length of 25 cm.

What obligations do distributors have to meet?

The ElektroG contains an information requirement for distributors under a take-back obligation, which calls for publicising the collection sites set up by them as well as the option of dropping off WEEE.

If distributors do not pass on WEEE to any (intended) third parties, they have to check whether the device or individual components can be reused before further recycling or disposal steps are taken.

In addition, distributors are obliged to report their return activities to the stiftung ear before taking up such activities. Furthermore, the ElektroG requires of distributors to notify the stiftung ear of returned WEEE by 30 April of the following year. As part of this report, it must be shown how much waste the distributor has passed on to the manufacturer or the public waste management authorities (örE).

How should the distributor organise returns?

Brick-and-mortar retailers must set up collection points, which are located "within a reasonable distance" of the consumer. Collection sites and transfer stations of the public waste management authorities (örE) may not be used or designated as collection sites in terms of trade returns. As per legislative intent, for example, collaborations with brick-and-mortar retailers, social enterprises or return possibilities are conceivable.

What happens to the returned WEEE?

Retailers can recycle/treat/dispose of the WEEE themselves or enter into collaborations with manufacturers or public waste management authorities (örE). Components may not be removed from the WEEE at the collection sites; this does not apply to the removal of waste batteries and rechargeable batteries. The initial treatment of WEEE may only be carried out by certified initial treatment facilities.

If the WEEE is used for in-house use and exploitation, the customer may not be charged, and the general provisions of the ElektroG and the Recycling Management Act (KrWG) must be adhered to.

What applies to the import from and export to other EU member states?

Retailers who offer electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) for the first time from another member state of the European Union (EU) or originating from a third country on the German market are considered manufacturers in terms of the act with all the associated obligations (in particular registration).

If retailers use distance communication to sell EEE in another EU member state, in which they are not established, directly to end users, they are obliged to appoint a natural or legal person or partnership established in the country of destination who will be responsible for fulfilling the retailer obligations defined in the EU directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (2012/19/EU). In many EU member states this requirement has already been incorporated in respective national legislation for quite some time.

The "agent" acts as substitute for the missing establishment of a retailer in the country of destination and accepts the national product stewardship on its behalf. Part of this responsibility is to report the anticipated (sales) quantities of each equipment category in the destination country to the relevant authority, whereas the specifics of the obligations vary from federal state to federal state. Furthermore, the electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) shipped to the destination country must be registered via the agent. This also applies to devices that are already properly registered in Germany.

What costs does the distributor have to bear?

The online trade has to guarantee the taking back of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) by providing comprehensive return possibilities within reasonable distance of every end user. Depending on how it is implemented, postage costs, costs of participation in a collective return/collection system or for the establishment and operation of a comprehensive return system as well as (internal) administrative costs are incurred.

If a pick-up service is offered to the end user, the end user can be billed for these costs.

Brick-and-mortar retailers must provide return facilities close to their sales outlets. Depending on how the take-back obligation is implemented, the cost of administrative and operational processes (e.g. provision and changing of collection bins).

What penalties exist for violations?

If the distributor does not reuse, treat or dispose of the collected WEEE in accordance with the legal provisions, he can receive a fine of up to € 10,000 per individual case for the respective administrative offence.

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