New life to mobile phones

Tom Parker of Interel has worked for the Electronics Coalition that came together in 1998 to work on the proposed EU directives on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS).

Nokia was one of the founders of the Electronics Coalition, which identified four key areas of concern in relation to the proposed directives:

  • Producer responsibility.

  • Industry responsibility for historic waste.

  • Responsibility for free riders and orphan products. (Orphan products are products whose producer is no longer in business; free riders are companies that evade producer responsibility for example through entering and leaving the market quickly.)

  • Looking at substance legislation from a sound scientific perspective.

Incentives for Better Design

When the first ideas for the directives were circulated back in 1998 the majority of the industry argued that there should be flexible producer responsibility providing for either individual or collective responsibility, depending on the circumstance or, for example, the type of product in question.

Parker says the companies in the Electronics Coalition understood that if you make a company responsible for the recycling and material content of its own products, the company has an incentive to go back and rethink how it could reduce recycling costs through better product design.

"Nokia understood right from the beginning that if there were a free choice between collective and individual responsibility, the large majority of companies would choose collective responsibility, leading eventually to a situation where there would exist no driving forces for better design," Parker notes.

Good for the Producer, the Consumer, and the Environment

The Electronics Coalition was successful in first of all forming consensus around individual producer responsibility within industry. Then the coalition played a central role in convincing the European Parliament that this was the right approach to take. Once the parliament had accepted the coalition's position, a lot of work went into convincing the other institutions, the Council and the European Commission. The European Parliament and the Council reached final agreement in November 2002 that for consumer products, producer responsibility should be on an individual basis.

Tom Parker stresses that if good and environmentally responsible product design is rewarded through lower recycling costs, then it ultimately becomes interesting for the consumer to buy products that are better for the environment.

"What we are confronted with in many cases today is that those products that are better for the environment are the more expensive ones and a lot of consumers cannot therefore afford to choose them even if they want to. The ultimate objective is that those products that are easier to recycle and better for the environment are cheaper. In this way, there is a benefit for the producer, for the consumer and for the environment."