Europe threatens legal action over Government's recycling failures

A A A

Britain could be taken to Europe's highest court as early as next month over delays to plans to recycle millions of electronic goods from mobile phones to mowers.

The dispute, which could come to a head in January, has echoes of the chaos seen three years ago when a "fridge mountain" built up because Whitehall failed to make preparations for a change in recycling legislation. It coincides with this week's launch of a long-term EU waste strategy designed to make Europe "a recycling society".

Britain's slow progress is underlined by the delay in putting a directive on recycling electronic waste into UK law, even though the legislation had been under negotiation for years. The UK's three fellow laggards are France, Poland and Malta.

The directive should have been in UK law by August 2004 and by this summer collection systems ought to have been in place. By the end of December 2006, 4kg of household electrical waste per head of population will have to be collected, including 80 per cent of some items, such as fridges and microwaves.

The European Commission said Britain had received two official warnings, the first of which was issued in July this year. The Government was due to provide an explanation this month as to how it will implement the plans.

Instead, the Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks announced a Whitehall review which "will be followed by a full consultation exercise in the spring before we proceed to transpose the main provisions of the directive into UK law".

That makes it almost inevitable that the UK will be taken to the European Court of Justice for failing to implement the measures.

Barbara Helfferich, spokeswoman for the European Commission, said: "It is not acceptable. We need to abide by the law. We have waited a long time and it is time for the directive to be transposed. If not the UK will have to face the court."

In Brussels officials believe that the Government is politically committed to the directive, to which it agreed, but that Whitehall has proved incompetent in making it work.

One theory is that too few resources were deployed to implement the law; the other is that there were errors in the version of the draft law.

Under the new directive consumers will be able to leave old electrical goods with shopkeepers when they buy new ones or take them to recycling points set up by local councils. The directive enshrines the principle that the polluter should pay by making companies fund the dismantling and recycling of products when they are unwanted.

At present, 90 per cent of electrical waste is put into landfill, incinerated or sent for scrap metal without prior treatment. The products sometimes contain metals such as lead or mercury or CFCs, PCBs and PVCs which can contaminate air, water or soil.

The European Commission's latest strategy document highlights the growing urgency of the need for recycling. Waste generation in the European Union is estimated at more than 1.3 billion tons per year and is increasing at rates comparable to economic growth. Municipal waste grew by 19 per cent between 1995 and 2003.

Stavros Dimas, the European environment commissioner, said "Waste volume has been disproportionately increasing, outpacing even economic growth. Waste generation, disposal and recycling are of concern to us all: individuals, companies and public authorities. Now is the time to modernise our approach and to promote more and better recycling."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage