EU acts to prevent online free-riders

In 2021 a new EU law will come into force requiring online marketplaces to evidence compliance for non-EU manufacturers selling on their sites.

Currently online marketplaces and fulfilment centres, including the likes of eBay and Amazon, can sell goods made outside of the EU without any extended producer responsibilities under EU law. However, from 2021 they will be obliged to provide evidence of compliance with the regulations for the area they are selling to.

The new Market Surveillance Regulation will hold online sellers to account with the existing laws for packaging waste, WEEE and batteries and is part of a wider initiative to ensure that only compliant products are available for sale across the EU.

Exceptionally high proportion of non-compliance

The EU law addresses a well-known issue that has been highlighted over the years by various stakeholders in the UK. In 2018 an informal investigation by the WEEE Scheme Forum (WSF) into ‘online free-riding’ in the EEE retail sector uncovered large scale potential WEEE non-compliance of products sold though online retail and fulfilment houses.

For example, it was found that an exceptionally high proportion of certain types of product offered for sale through online marketplaces were supplied by non-compliant producers. This included tablet PCs (40%), power tools (54%), LED light bulbs (76%), fitness watches (88%) and hair care products (50%).

Online shopping LED bulbs

The WSF summarised that such a high level of non-compliance could be expected to have a significant impact on the competitiveness of compliant producers and urged Defra to take steps to address the problem, submitting the evidence to The Environmental Audit Committee.

The National Audit Office have also been critical of The Environment Agency over their lack of action on the issue across all regulations.

A step in the right direction

Ecosurety head of policy Robbie Staniforth commented “For years we have known online retailing is an issue for the recycling sector. It is easy to be cynical about “online only” retailers but the truth is that many producer responsibility laws were simply not written with these business models in mind.”

“This amendment is a small step in the right direction. The UK Government should take note and ensure that any future legislative proposals take this approach into account.”

Ben Luger

Marketing projects specialist

Ben joined the team at the beginning of 2015 and helps drive marketing communications and projects for Ecosurety, including project managing the launch of the Ecosurety Exploration Fund and website content development.

Written by Ben Luger Published 16/08/2019 Topics International
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