Governance and sustainable development: the case of extended producer responsibility in the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) management sector
The electrical and electric equipment (EEE) waste stream is currently growing the fastest, mainly due to the growth and renewal rates of household equipment. These wastes are a source of environmental problems because they contain toxic substances such as heavy metals and flame retardants, but they are also an important source of raw materials, including strategic metals and minerals such as rare earths. The European WEEE Directive of 2003, which was renewed in 2012, introduced the extended producer responsibility. This principle is an environmental management strategy which aims to make the product manufacturer responsible for the entire product life cycle, not only the end of life management, but also its design. Facing huge volume of diffuse and mixed waste in the household WEEE sector, producers have come together to set up organizations to whom they have delegated this responsibility. These producer responsibility organisations (PRO) are central to the sector’s management. The producer responsibility organisation has two missions: He firstly has to fulfil a general interest mission focused on the collection and treatment of waste in compliance with a national and European regulatory framework. He secondly has to fulfil the economic and managerial mission of managing the financial contributions from the producers. This task focuses on the search for efficiency, cost reduction and optimization of resources.
Presenting this context could first lead us to ask several questions: the extended producer responsibility principle could involve a form of governance centred on the producer who, having the responsibility, should be able to have the control means allowing him to meet its performance requirements. But placed in a context of sustainable development, it is questionable whether these organisations are supposed to ensure the management of the WEEE sector without any external control mode. Hence, it is clear that the producer responsibility organisation is inserted into a complex system of governance, including several stakeholders who are affected or may affect its own objectives.
It then becomes necessary to produce a descriptive representation of this complex governance system due to the multiplicity of actors.
Research questions can be presented from a temporal perspective: firstly the past, to try and understand the emergence of governance, then the present, which led us to study the mechanisms and places of governance and finally, the future, following the adage “know the past to understand the present and imagine the future”, to consider changing strategies applied to environmental management systems
What the institutional approach showed
The institutional configuration of the WEEE has similarities with common resources management institutions (Ostrom, 1990). It is however important to distinguish the common resources from the “common goods” that are typically natural resources. However, if one considers WEEE as an ore of strategic raw materials, we set ourselves in a configuration of sustainable management of resources.
Some principles found in common resource management institutions are found in the WEEE sector; eg the quantification and traceability of the material, the stakeholder involvement in collective decision or the recognition by external authorities of the right to self-organize.
What the study of governance mechanisms in the context of sustainable development has shown
We can confirm the existence of two levels of governance (Bocquet and Mothe, 2009). In our case study both levels embody the temporal dimension of sustainable development: a daily management in connection with a long-term vision. The environmental organization is responsible for the daily management and embodies the operational governance structure of the industry. Strategic governance, composed of all stakeholders and formal and informal bodies, primarily aims at monitoring the industry’s targets and the control of producer responsibility organisations and producers. In this system, the initial agreement contract document on which depend each extended producer organisation is used to construct the strategy.
Change strategies for environmental management systems
Despite the expression of an institutional plan, including regulations, waste prevention objectives remain far less specific than the targets for collection and waste treatment. We find ourselves in a situation of competition between prevention / waste reduction and treatment / recycling.
The formulation of a "strategic device" (Aggeri, 2014) would be: the proposal of real coexistence between reduction and waste management; a reduction policy does not exclude a waste treatment system.
In the multi-level perspective (Geels, 2002), it is the transition to a new socio-technical landscape macro level that is referred and which results in new patterns of consumption and production. At meso level is needed, as well as the treatment hierarchy, an eco-design patterns hierarchy in European regulations, which associates waste prevention with design for reparability and durability, and then associated with recycling a design for recyclability.
The micro level concerns innovations that are faster to obtain than innovations at higher levels, and provide concrete applications of these new patterns of consumption and production, for example the development of closer links between designers and repairers, innovations in materials separation techniques, and the development of scalable products.
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