Take Back Conference

On 19 May 2015, the fifth international Take-Back Conference was held at Žofín Palace. About 400 attendees celebrated ten years since the beginning of electronic appliance recycling in the Czech Republic and since the ASEKOL compliance scheme was established. The conference theme was therefore a logical choice: What has the journey been like for take-back of electronic appliances in the Czech Republic and abroad? Are current rules set up to work properly and efficiently? In a series of lectures and an afternoon panel discussion, prominent Czech and foreign guests evaluated together whether the results achieved are really worthy of celebration.

Handing electronic devices in at red containers helps people with disabilities

The anniversary conference was opened by Václav Krása, Chairman of the Czech National Disability Council. His thought-provoking introduction offered reflections on current society. How can the environment be connected with social issues? “Euro-Atlantic society finds itself at a phase in which it is fully aware of its declining resources as well as their unequal distribution. A number of groups within society are pushed to the margin. Both of these factors create instability. Frustration and dissatisfaction with life lead to destructive tendencies within society. The Czech National Disability Council’s co-operation in take-back as well as the Crown per Kilo project is therefore entirely logical,” Mr Krása explained. The Crown per Kilo project is aimed at supporting employment for people with disabilities, representing an exemplary connection between the environment and social issues.

A quarter century of extended producer responsibility in the Czech Republic and Europe

This year marks an important anniversary also for Thomas Lindhqvist. He first began speaking of the concept of extended producer responsibility25 years ago, and that had marked the first step in the long journey to this year’s anniversary. The deteriorating situation concerning waste and resource depletion had convinced him of the need to re-use products. In 1990, the foundation was thus laid for the recycling concept. Lindhqvist brought forth a proposal to prevent impending environmental problems. “The main starting point is to motivate producers of goods to increased responsibility. To facilitate recycling at the design and production stage!” Mr Lindhqvist said. And what does he think all those participating have achieved over 25 years? “This concept has been accepted on a global scale and a new recycling industry has been established and gradually improved,” he concluded.

How is the theory perceived by the producers whom it affects directly? This question was addressed by Korrina Hegarty from the European Committee of Domestic Equipment Manufacturers based in Brussels. She believes that over the years producers have recognised their responsibility for the environment. They now support long-term environmental interests and are continuously innovating their products.

Ms Hegarty also discussed the European WEEE Directive, the result of efforts from many groups. We are approaching a time when WEEE policies will put increasing pressure on countries to collect as much electronics as they have introduced to market. She concluded by emphasising, “Recycling will always be inseparably connected to high costs. These costs, however, can be balanced by returns from recycled materials.”

Ladislav Trylč from the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic added that, “There has been a sharp increase in electronic equipment collection since 2005. In the Czech Republic, approximately 30% of products introduced to the market are currently being collected. As the European Union has set the target to collect at least 40% by 2016, I think we have some real work ahead of us.” Even as he thusly evaluated the challenges awaiting take-back in future, Mr Trylč also praised the activities of compliance schemes. “It must be noted that there are differences in the quality of those activities,” he remarked while also rating ASEKOL as having among the best collection results as well as successful awareness-raising programmes.

Experience from co-ordination centres

Take-back in the Czech Republic is facing a number of challenges. We are approaching a time when the Czech Republic’s mandatory collection target will increase. How should this task be met? Experience was shared by Andreas Schuh from Elektroaltgeräte Koordinierungsstelle in Austria managed by the Austrian Ministry of the Environment. This co-ordination centre has the task of assigning the proportions of electronic equipment individual compliance schemes must collect. Among the centre’s other functions are control, data management, and management of uniform, nationwide PR communication. Peter Valent, director of Koordinačné centrum zberu elektroodpadu in Slovakia, shared a similar example of good practice with the audience. Mr Valent described the Slovak approach to take-back as a system that works. He ascribed the excellent level of Slovak take-back to high-quality legislation. There are great expectations in Slovakia for this year’s new electronics act. “The act focuses on producers circumventing their obligations and establishes clear and fair rules,” Mr Valent assessed.

Bureaucracy and legislation – obstacles to take-back?

The need for high-quality legislation was emphasised also by other guests. Ivana Svobodová from the Czech Environmental Inspectorate outlined problematic developments in Czech law. Legal inadequacies have so far placed strict limits on such areas as the Inspectorate’s efficient control activities and sanctions against compliance schemes breaking the rules. The need for further legislative amendments and proper definition of terms and activity areas must be priorities for improving the Czech collection system.

Nevertheless, former municipal mayor and Vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies Petr Gazdík appraised the development of take-back in municipalities as successful. He expressed great satisfaction with the system’s operation. He reminded the audience of the need at municipal level for awareness-raising and working with young people – as ASEKOL actively endeavours to do. On the other hand, Mr Gazdík noted that the heavy bureaucratic burdens connected to recycling can demotivate municipal representatives. In concluding, Mr Gazdík thanked the compliance administrators. “Take-back of electronic equipment works much better than does take-back of other waste commodities,” he stated.

A relaxed panel discussion with many interesting guests

After a pleasant lunch break, the conference continued with a panel discussion moderated by Martin Veselovský. The participants endured with good humour some initial sound problems, which were compensated by the charming wit of Mr Veselovský. The panel was made up of the presenters from the first session as well as additional invited experts: Michal Mazal, representing the Consumer Electronics Association; Jan Kořán, a legal expert on waste; Petr Miller, Chairman of the Union of Purchasers and Processors of Secondary Raw Materials of the Czech Republic; and Pavel Drahovzal, Chairman of the Union of Towns and Municipalities of the Czech Republic.

Outlook for the Future and Praise for Compliance Schemes

Given the occasion of the ten-year anniversary in the Czech Republic, the discussion appropriately focused on the outlook for the future. In introducing the topic, the moderator asked whether compliance schemes are necessary at all. The participants were in agreement that these represent the best possible option. “Compliance schemes are reliable expert partners for municipalities, and vice versa,” Mr Drahovzal stated. Although most were of the opinion that producers should be responsible for take-back, it will not be possible to fulfil this task without equal partnership with other actors.

The panellists together considered the possibility to establish a co-ordination centre in the Czech Republic following the examples of Slovakia and Austria. This system has long existed in neighbouring countries as a tool for co-ordination and information. “The collection system has operated here for ten years. Compliance schemes have created their own sub-systems such as red containers and many other forms of collection,” the attorney Mr Kořán assessed. Transferring this model to the Czech Republic would therefore involve certain complications.

At the end, there was lively discussion on the topic as to the future of the auspicious concept of re‑use. Few of us realise that the concept of re-use has been in operation for a long time. In Europe, it is known from second-hand shops and flea markets. It will be a concept with wide support and also a challenge for the decades to come, but there is not yet a way to capture it in legislation. The introductory words from Thomas Lindhqvist are very fitting here: “Do not judge the possibility of future change.”

The panel agreed that Czech take-back has developed and achieved a good but not excellent level. We must not rest on our laurels, however. Through its directives, the European Union has instead forced us to dedicate much greater effort to collection and subsequent activities.

Concluding with cake and entertainment for remaining participants

How else to end the celebration of a ten-year anniversary than with cake? The symbolical cutting of a mountain of e-waste fell to Karel Krejsa, Sales and Marketing Director at ASEKOL a.s. Although the hour was late and the hall had thinned out, the remaining guests had the opportunity to see a performance by the Daemen acrobatic duo. The very close of the conference was dedicated to feminine beauty in the form of a fashion show with finalists from the Miss Firefighter pageant, which is loosely connected to the “Recycling with Firefighters” awareness-raising project conducted by compliance schemes.

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