Producer compliance schemes with active stakeholder management provide a sound basis for moving forward, both at the European and national levels, with an efficient and cost-effective system for collection and recycling of WEEE. They offer a simple and cost-effective approach. They provide a predictable source of funds, pay for all returned products, adhere to principles of environmentally sound management, provide convenient collection opportunities, and do not place an extra financial burden on local governments.
They minimise costs through competitive contracting for services, working with existing businesses, stimulating product design improvements to lower recycling costs, encouraging an extensive collection network to improve economies of scale.
The underlying principle of producer compliance schemes is that the stakeholders in the value chain should manage the end-of-life system, and that stakeholders' responsibilities should be proportionate to their ability of implementation.
Producer compliance schemes place manufacturers in a key role as the indirect managers of the recycling infrastructure through their involvement of the governance of the management entity. Consumers discard their end-of-life products at appropriate collection facilities. Retailers participate in the collection of products. Business end users' requirements are met. Logistic companies and recyclers compete to provide environmentally responsible collection and processing.
Government provides leadership by helping assure that all stakeholders perform their duties and the rules are followed. All stakeholders share responsibility to educate and inform the public.
Within the collective structure, certain manufacturers should be allowed to benefit from their initiatives to design more easily recycled products and to create internal recycling infrastructures by taking individual responsibility for the collection and recycling of their products.
Manufacturers that choose to establish their own collection and recycling systems should be free to do so. However even within the framework of producer compliance schemes there are a number of opportunities to enhance manufacturers' responsibilities for end-of-life management and to stimulate improvements in environmental design.
The idea of brand-specific compliance schemes, implementing the principle of individual producer responsibility to the letter, is attractive because it sounds so simple. Just make producers responsible for the management of the waste of their own products. Yet this may be relatively straightforward for sectors with few brands, but not for the electronics industry that consists of tens of thousands of companies placing millions of products on the market every year. Plus, the individual, brand-specific approach implies laws, regulations and enforcement that mandate companies to fulfil their obligations. The obligations that must be enforced include that financial obligations are met by all manufacturers, recycling services are environmentally responsible and meet performance targets, and pick-ups from consolidation centres are timely and fairly distributed – the tendency to "cherry pick" shipments from population centres must be controlled.
Governments must ensure that many small and often foreign manufacturers meet their obligations. Enforcement can be expensive, and a lack of enforcement – one of the industry's chief worries – results in an uneven and unfair playing field in the marketplace, allowing free riders to continue to escape any responsibility.