Purpose of the ElektroG
The German Act governing the Sale, Return and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment of 20 October 2015 (ElektroG) implements the legal obligation of producers of electrical and electronic equipment to assume responsibility for the end of life of their products. The aims of the Act are to
- protect health and the environment against harmful substances from electrical and electronic equipment, and
- reduce the amount of waste through recovery or recycling.
Producers – as well as importers, exporters and distributors – have an increased responsibility for the entire life cycle of the equipment. The Act requires local authorities to set up collection points for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) that was in use in private households. Producers must collect WEEE from these sites and dispose of it properly. Producers are also required to ensure the professional disposal of WEEE that was exclusively used for commercial purposes with a sale date after 13 August 2005. Any equipment sold before 13 August 2005 (or rather before 24 October 2015 in cases where the equipment falls within the scope of the ElektroG since this later date) must be disposed of by its respective owner.
Consumers are obliged to collect their WEEE separately from household waste and may discard it free of charge at municipal collection points. Alternatively, consumers may take advantage of the take-back system offered by the producer or reseller of electrical and electronic equipment. In addition, retail stores with at least 400 m2 of sales area for electrical and electronic products are required, upon sale of a new piece of equipment, to take back a used device of the equivalent type (1:1 take-back obligation) free of charge as well as any waste electrical or electronic equipment in common household quantities as long as the external dimensions of such waste do not exceed 25 cm. In the latter case, take-back must not require the customer to buy new electrical or electronic equipment (0:1 take-back). The same applies to mail order companies, in which case the minimum sales area of 400 m2 is based on their total warehousing space. It is the individual distributor's decision whether WEEE can be returned directly to the company or whether a different take-back system is set up. In general, a transition period of nine months applies to distributors to implement their take-back obligations; hence, take-back must be established at all distribution points concerned by 24 July 2016 at the latest.
Consumers are nevertheless advised to examine whether an electronic or electrical device can be put to different use before they decide to dispose of it. In many cases, longer use of the device proves to be more environmentally friendly, because – in contrast to the premature disposal of WEEE – longer use can prevent the unnecessary production of new equipment. By no means may WEEE be disposed with household waste, as is indicated by the image of a crossed-out wheeled bin on the product. This is because the disposal with household waste would not only be a loss of valuable raw materials in the materials cycle, but it would also be an additional input of harmful substances into household waste.
Tasks of the German Environment Agency relating to the ElektroG
The German Environment Agency (UBA) collects data from producers, local authorities, distributors and waste disposal companies and processes it to meet reporting obligations to the European Commission. It develops and publishes scientifically established specifications for data monitoring in a practice guide (Praxishilfe).
UBA also supports the further development of legislation on both the national and international level. The state of the art in collection and disposal of WEEE is in a process of continuous improvement, for example by commissioning and guiding investment projects under the funding programme for model projects to reduce environment pollution. UBA also informs the public about producer responsibilities for WEEE and their relevance for other environment-related areas and stakeholders.
Legal and operational supervision
On 24 October 2015, the UBA being the competent authority pursuant to Section 40 Para 1 ElektroG, once again conferred the execution of government tasks associated with the Act to the WEEE national register founded by producers as their clearinghouse (stiftung elektro-altgeräte register (stiftung ear)). The advantage of transferring duties to this organisation run by producer representatives is that it makes use of their professional knowledge while unburdening the UBA as an enforcement agency. Decisions concerning questions like what equipment is covered by the scope of ElektroG, are taken by the stiftung ear.
Responsibility for government tasks has not been handed over in its entirety though. The German Environment Agency as the designating authority exercises its legal and supervisory control of stiftung ear pursuant to Section 41 Para 1 ElektroG in order to ensure the lawful performance of tasks transferred. The diagram “ElektroG – regulation of the disposal of WEEE in Germany” (currently being adapted) illustrates how the various players interact.
Prosecution and penalty of regulatory offences
The German Environment Agency is the competent authority for prosecuting and penalizing regulatory offences pursuant to Section 45 Paras 1- 5, 7, 10, 13 and 15 ElektroG. The imposition of penalties concerning other offences is in the remit of the federal states (Bundesländer). The areas of responsibility delegated to the German Environment Agency pursuant to ElektroG are:
- untimely registration as producer
- placement by the producer of electrical and electronic equipment on the market without correct registration of brand and type of equipment
- distributor offer of electrical and electronic equipment from producers who are not correctly registered
- producer failure to identify registration number
- producer failure to appoint an authorised representative
- failure or untimely collection of a WEEE receptacle provided by the municipal collection point
- failure or untimely placement of an empty receptacle at a municipal collection point, and
- inadequate or delayed report of the monthly volume of equipment placed on the market and the annual volume of recovered WEEE.
The definition of producer as used in ElektroG means in particular producers and importers which are required to register officially with the stiftung elektro-altgeräte register (stiftung ear), including brand and type of equipment, before they place their own or imported electrical and electronic equipment on the market in Germany. Foreign-based producers must either establish an office in Germany or appoint to stiftung ear an authorised representative located in Germany who can fulfil the obligations of registration and assume responsibility for the other legal requirements borne by the producer. Conversely, German producers which export to other EU countries must – in so far as there is no establishment in the export destination country – appoint a local authorised representative to the competent authority in that country.
A producer’s (or its authorised representative’s) failure to register or not correct registration can amount to what can be a significant, unfair competitive advantage. Although their market participation is prohibited by law, they are shirking their producer responsibility for their own electrical and electronic equipment, but also imposing the costs of the disposal of their end-of-life products on registered producers. On account of this, regulatory offences in respect of registration can be fined up to EUR 100,000 in addition to the imposition of penalties to compensate for the competitive advantage gained by non-registration.
Distributors are prohibited by law to offer electrical and electronic equipment that originates from producers (or their authorised representatives) who are not correctly registered. If they nevertheless offer electrical and electronic equipment, they are considered producers and are therefore subject to the corresponding producer obligations. In order to ensure a transparent, self-controlling market, the registry of registered producers and authorised representatives is published on the Internet, must be accessible at all times, and is updated on an ongoing basis by stiftung ear. In addition, every producer must clearly show its registration number during the offer of electrical and electronic equipment and on invoices.
Further details, in particular about the scope of ElektroG, are available online at stiftung elektro-altgeräte register (stiftung ear). You can create a free dynamic bookmark which ensures that you are notified of any changes on the stiftung ear website in good time.
UBA acts as Board of Appeal
Since July 2007, the German Environment Agency has acted as a board of appeal for decisions contesting administrative acts of the stiftung ear. The producer may file an appeal with either stiftung ear or the German Environment Agency. Administrative appeal proceedings against most of the official acts of the stiftung ear have been admitted by 24 October 2015. The exception to this regulation is an appeal against pick-up and pre-position orders (Section 44 Para 1 ElektroG), in which case the appeal must be lodged with the administrative court.