The expansion of the take-back obligation for WEEE to grocery retailers is one of the main measures from the package of amendments to the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (ElektroG) that came into force on 1.1.2022 to improve the collection of WEEE and increase collection volume. Supermarkets and discount grocers in particular regularly put large quantities of electrical appliances on the market, but in most cases did not have to deal with their return. Previously, only shops and mail-order companies with a sales area or storage area for electrical and electronic equipment of at least 400 square metres - i.e. large electrical stores, some DIY stores and larger online retailers - were obliged to take back WEEE free of charge, in addition to the recycling centres of the municipalities.
The aim of the new regulation is to ensure that end-of-life electrical appliances can be disposed of appropriately through a nationwide network of return facilities that are close to consumers, and that fewer end-of-life appliances are disposed of improperly, for example in household waste, packaging waste or in nature, where they do not belong. WEEE should also not be handed over to scrap collectors and dealers, who often use unaddressed mailings to advertise their services. As a rule, they are not allowed to collect WEEE and there is a risk that it will not be disposed of in an environmentally sound manner either in Germany or abroad.
All end-of-life appliances that are returned in accordance with the regulations can thus be prepared for reuse or recycled in order to conserve and recover raw materials and resources and to remove environmentally harmful components and substances from the cycle.
If a grocery retailer with a total sales area of at least 800 square metres sells electrical and electronic equipment on the market several times in a calendar year or on a permanent basis, they are obliged to take back WEEE free of charge.
The new regulations apply as follows: small old appliances with an edge length of less than or equal to 25 centimetres (e.g. shavers, watches, telephones and smartphones, remote control devices, toasters, computer mouse) can be returned by consumers even if they do not buy a new appliance at the same time. In contrast, dealers are only obliged to take back WEEE with an edge length of more than 25 centimetres (e.g. washing machines, televisions, electric lawnmowers) if the consumer buys a new appliance of the same type. WEEE return must be possible either directly in the retail shop or in the immediate vicinity. The same take-back and return regulation continues to apply as before to distributors with a sales area for electrical and electronic equipment of at least 400 square metres.
In addition to traditional supermarkets, discount grocers and chemist's shops, all other merchants are also considered food retailers if they fulfil the relevant requirements (offer of groceries, minimum sales area). Retail businesses that offer only food such as sweets in the checkout area or on a seasonal basis are not subject to the take-back obligation.
To make WEEE collection points easily recognisable, the new regulation requires retailers to provide information on take-back obligations and return options by displaying easily visible and legible signs in the direct vicinity of the main customer flow or in their presentation media (e.g. website) or with shipment of their goods. Collection and take-back points in the retail sector and in the municipalities will all be furnished with a uniform collection site logo.
WEEE can also be returned here free of charge: at municipal collection points, including recycling centres or at the mobile pollutant collection centre. Some municipalities also have collection containers for small appliances in public places or offer collection alongside bulky waste collection. These arrangements may vary from municipality to municipality.
Beside the businesses with a take-back obligation listed above, manufacturers and other smaller vendors can also take back WEEE free of charge on a voluntary basis. Operators of certified WEEE recycling facilities (primary treatment facilities) can also cooperate in the free take-back by setting up take-back points for this purpose.
The information campaign "Plan-E: E-Schrott einfach & richtig entsorgen" (https://e-schrott-entsorgen.org/) provides consumers with information about e-waste disposal and helps them to find collection and take-back points: E-Schrott-Rückgabefinder .
The campaign is promoted by the Federal Ministry for the Environment and UBA.
What counts as electrical and electronic equipment: Classic equipment, which means everything that has an electrical cord or is battery-operated: washing machines, refrigerators, TVs, cameras, toasters, remote control devices etc. Also included now are photovoltaic panels and products with built-in electrical functions such as textiles (e.g. illuminated or "flashing" shoes or clothing) or furniture (e.g. electric massage chairs, illuminated shelves, "smart" or illuminated mirrors, gaming chairs with integrated speakers or LED lighting. So-called passive devices such as cables, sockets or light switches are also electrical appliances. All applicable appliances can be recognised by the crossed-out wheeled bin symbol directly on the product or packaging.