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 sanctioning regulatory offences pursuant to section 45 paragraph 1 number 1- 5, 7, 10, 13 and 15 ElektroG. The federal states (Bundesländer) are responsible for the sanctioning of the other offences. The regulatory offences to be prosecuted by the German Environment Agency pursuant to ElektroG concern:
- the failure to register or to register in a timely manner as a producer or as an authorised representative of a producer (number 1),
- the failure to notify stiftung ear, or failure to notify stiftung ear correctly or in a timely manner of changes to data contained in the application for registration, or permanent discontinuation of placing on the market (number 2),
- the placing on the market of electrical and electronic equipment without correct registration (of brand and type of equipment) of the producer or his authorised representative (number 3),
- the offering of electrical and electronic equipment by distributors for sale without correct registration of the producer (or his authorised representative) of this electrical and electronic equipment (number 4),
- the enabling the offering or making available of electrical and electronic equipment whose producers are not correctly registered themselves or through an authorised representative by electronic marketplaces (number 4a),
- the warehousing, packaging, addressing or dispatching by fulfilment service providers of electrical and electronic equipment whose producers are not correctly registered themselves or through an authorised representative (number 4b),
- the non-disclosure of its registration number as producer when offering and on invoices (number 5),
- the producer’s failure to appoint an authorised representative (number 7),
- the failure to pick up, or failure to pick up in a timely manner, a container of WEEE provided by the public waste management authority, contrary to the order of stiftung ear (number 10),
- the failure to place an empty container on a public waste disposal authority’s property or failure to do so in a timely manner in accordance with the order of the stiftung ear (number 13), and
- the failure to notify stiftung ear, or failure to notify it correctly, completely or in a timely manner, regarding regular statistical volume data, e.g. on the placing on the market of EEE or on the take-back of WEEE (number 15).
The producer definition established in ElektroG means in particular producers and importers who are required to register with the stiftung ear, including brand and type of equipment, before they are allowed to place their own or imported electrical and electronic equipment on the German market. Producers from other countries must either establish an office in Germany or appoint an authorised representative located in Germany to stiftung ear who fulfil the obligations of registration and assume responsibility for the other legal requirements borne by the producer. Vice versa, German producers who 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 an incorrect registration can amount to a significant, unfair competitive advantage. Although their market participation is prohibited by law, they are not only 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 regarding registration can be fined with up to EUR 100,000 per infringement 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 these electrical and electronic equipment, they are considered producers and are therefore subject to the corresponding producer obligations.
From 01.07.2023 on (expiry of the transition period of Section 46 paragraph 2 ElektroG), electronic marketplaces as well as fulfilment service providers must verify the existence of correct registration in advance (Section 45 paragraph 1 number 4a respectively number 4b ElektroG). Regulatory offences against this can also be sanctioned with a fine of up to EUR 100,000 per infringement.
In order to ensure a transparent, self-controlling market, the register of registered producers and authorised representatives is published on the Internet, is accessible free of charge at all times, is daily updated by the stiftung ear and can also be retrieved fully automatically via IT interface. 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 concerning the scope of ElektroG, are available online at stiftung ear. You can create a free dynamic bookmark which ensures that you are notified of any changes on the stiftung ear website in a timely manner.
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.