Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment

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Critical Evaluation of the Product ECO-responsible Scheme Proposed by the HKSAR

Government on the Recycling of "Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment”

Introduction

The  are more and more gadgets and electronic devices introduced to us every day, due to constant upgrades the prices go down and electronic devises become mass available. New versions and updates of those products come out very often, too often I would say. People purchase more and more of electronic devices without proper disposal of the ones they replace. As the hardware in the electronics can contain hazardous elements, which if not disposed properly, will become health threatening to the population. I find it necessary to follow the Product ECO-responsible Scheme which is suggested by the HKSAR Government on the Recycling of "Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment” as it is of vital importance and may bring a lot of benefits to the community.  There are several possible solutions that will advance current level of the development of  recycling program WEEE. Due to the negative environmental hazards of the materials, it is, therefore necessary to find a lasting solution to the problem. The solutions need effective implementationtion so as to minimize damage to the environment. The suggested solutions from the relevant stakeholders are necessary for an effective recycling plan.

Critical Evaluation

Hong Kong shows a robust demand for the consumers of electronic and electrical equipment including refrigerators, televisions, washing machines, freezers, air conditioners and a variety of computer products. The problem is that all these items contain a lot of hazardous and threatening substances which require proper management. One of the major concerns should be the principle of ‘polluter pays’, producer responsibility in the waste management and the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance (2008).

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is usually used in relation to any  surplus, discarded, obsolete or broken electronic or electrical device that is dependent on electromagnetic fields or electric currents to ensure appropriate work properly. It is also designed to transfer, generate and measure magnetic fields or electrical currents. WEEE is considered to be of growing international concern as it includes hazardous components which are harmful to the human health and environment in case they are not properly disposed or treated. Nowadays, more than 80% of WEEE that is generated in Hong Kong has been recycled. Hong Kong sells the majority of it through second-hand dealers, then it is re-used and recovered into useful materials. The WEEE pending shipment temporary storage has caused environmental hazards in Hong Kong. Hence, controls on importing WEEE may also be tightened. Thus, there is an increasing pressure for Hong Kong to become more self-sufficient in managing WEEE. Moreover, the disposal of landfills within the region is not a solution.

Producer responsibility is defined as a strategy which deals with the stakeholder engagement in sharing responsibility (physical or financial) for the disposal or treatment of end-of-life products in order to provide the environmental impact minimization.

The key approach of the mainstream is to bring WEEE under mandatory control with the help of schemes based on producer responsibility also called as WEEE Schemes. The main features of the already mentioned schemes differ in the following aspects:

1) WEEE collection. The majority of schemes make retailer offer a ‘take-back’ program. It means that they take back WEEE brought by consumers.

2) Coverage. It includes refrigerators, televisions, washing machines, air conditioners, freezers and a wide range of computer products.

3) Cost-recovery mechanism.All WEEE Schemes should run on the basis of self-financing through some form of charge or fee. The methods of charging are dependable on the fact who pays, when and how. The most common methods include an invisible ‘inclusive’ fee, an end-of-life fee and a visible separate fee.

Nowadays, Hong Kong relies on some voluntary measures which may help to approach the WEEE emerging problem. They include two pilot programmes concerning recycling. They are developed for electrical equipment and computers operated by St. James Settlement and Caritas. In addition, any refurbishable equipment is donated to those who are in need or sold for charity.  

It is believed that Hong Kong is slowly moving in the direction to a mandatory WEEE management approach. This fact was a kind of stimulus for the Legislative Council to enact the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance to assure a legal framework for implementing WEEE schemes for various products. The government has already introduced an environmental levy for plastic bags intended for shopping. There exist the following objectives of putting in place a proper WEEE scheme in Hong Kong:


1) minimize WEEE impact which may be brought about for the health of people who should handle the waste and environment in the whole;

2) foster the recycling and reuse of parts and products. It may promote more efficient resource use;

3) deal with the increasing WEEE volume without any additional pressure on the landfill facilities which are stretched;

4) follow the international community developments in the neighboring region in the sphere of WEEE management;

5) better ‘polluter pays’ align principle in financing the WEEE management;

6) promote the environmental industry development in Hong Kong.

Section 2(1) of the Product Eco-responsibility Ordinance states that the WEEE schemes should be based on the principle of ‘polluter pays’. The main aim of WEEE scheme is to be sustainable, enforceable and cost effective.

WEEE has been brought into Hong Kong to be re-exported or transshipped to some neighboring regions for further recycling or reuse. Open a free-rider loophole to exploit the free treatment which is offered for WEEE regulation in Hong Kong. An end-of-life method may become a disincentive one to consumers and encourage free-riding and dumping by placing products in the system of municipal waste.  

The government has proposed to impose an appropriate fee that should help to recover the costs of the mandatory WEEE Scheme.Distributors and importers could become the agents for collecting the fee. The cost could be recovered along the supply chain from consumers.

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