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The regulatory approach of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive explicitly places ‘producer responsibility’ on the centre stage. The producer is obliged to ‘take into full account and facilitate’ primarily function-maintaining measures, such as ‘repair’ and ‘upgrading’ as well as ‘reuse’; only subsequently are material-maintaining measures mentioned in the form of ‘disassembly and recycling’. The main incentive established by the Directive is the allocation of costs. Every producer ‘shall be responsible for financing the operations . . . relating to the waste from his own products’. In practice, however, individual producer responsibility is transferred to a collective system in which the financial incentive for function-maintaining measures only has a minimal effect.

If one wants to encourage the producer to decide in favour of individual producer responsibility, the machine-readable identification of products is needed to allocate costs according to the polluter-pays principle. At the same time, it also allows for improved monitoring of product and waste flows, on the basis of which illegal waste shipments would also become easier to detect.

This article describes the basic legislative provisions of product responsibility and their practical implementation using the example of Germany. It also shows the ways in which a machine-readable identification and information system is needed to support the environmental effectiveness of the WEEE system and discusses the necessary legal adaptation that is required.