The German Electrical Devices Act: what are the rules?
- ElektroG2 (the Second Electrical Devices Act): What is it?
- Electrical and electronic devices under the German Electrical Devices Act
- The Electrical Devices Act: passive devices
- Under §9 of the Electrical Devices Act: Labelling obligations (WEEE labelling)
- WEEE labelling as per the Electrical Devices Act
- WEEE labelling abroad
- Dealers and the Electrical Devices Act: the obligation to accept returns of used electrical devices
- Products distinguished by the Electrical Devices Act: B2B (commercial devices) and B2C (household devices)
- How can manufacturers ensure the obligations of the Electrical Devices Act are fulfilled as simply as possible?
The German Electrical Devices Act (ElektroG) controls the marketing, disposal and recycling of electrical and electronic devices. Among other things, it regulates which devices need registration and labelling (e.g. with the generally recognised symbol of a crossed-out waste bin). But what does the German Electrical Devices Act consider to be an electrical device? In plain terms, an electrical device is one which requires electrical current or an electromagnetic field for its ordinary operations.
In Germany, the manufacturers, distributors, importers and direct shippers of such devices are required to register them. If an unregistered or improperly registered device is offered, even unintentionally, the ElektroG considers this a civil offence. The obligations and risks apply equally in the field of claims under competition law (warnings) and in the field of responsibility under civil law.
The German Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act (also Electricals Act or ElektroG) transposes the European WEEE Directive into German law. It thus regulates the placing on the market, take-back and disposal of electrical and electronic equipment. Like the WEEE Directive, the Electrical and Electronic Equipment Act aims to avoid waste and strengthen recycling. What’s more, ElektroG is intended to increase accountability among the manufacturers of electrical appliances. The full name of ElektroG is: the Act Governing the Sale, Return and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Electrical and Electronic Equipment. It is more rarely referred to as the Electronic Equipment Act, the Electronics Act or the Regulation on Electronic Scrap.
The German Electrical Devices Act – ElektroG2
Basically, the concepts “ElektroG2” and “ElektroG” (the 1st and 2nd Electrical Devices Acts) are used synonymously in Germany. Strictly speaking, the ElektroG2 is an amendment to the original that came into force in stages from 2014 to 2018. The ElektroG2 is based, in turn, on the latest amendments to the WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU, also called WEEE2.
The German Electrical Devices Act: the new “ElektroG3”
The Federal Government lately adopted a new set of amendments to the German Electrical Devices Act. This new “Elektrogesetz 3” came into force on 1 January 2022 and, unlike its predecessors, is not based on updates to the WEEE Directive but is a legal initiative on the strictly national level. Thus, the new German Electrical Devices Act contains above all new liabilities for marketplace operators and fulfilment service providers, alongside different return obligations for retail. The manufacturer obligations have also been expanded in ElektroG3.
Electrical and electronic devices under the German Electrical Devices Act:
According to § 3 of the German Electrical Devices Act, electrical and electronic devices are those operating with alternating current up to a maximum of 1,000 Volts or direct current up to a maximum of 1,500 Volts, and…
- are dependent on electrical current or electromagnetic fields in order to operate normally, or…
- serve to generate, transfer or measure electrical currents and electromagnetic fields.
Exceptions to the German Electrical Devices Act: passive devices
In 2019, an amendment to the Electrical Devices Act was adopted in Germany, meaning many devices previously unaffected by it now come under its purview: these are “passive devices”. Since this amendment, basically every item using, transferring or measuring electrical energy is considered an electrical or electronic device. Consequently, it is not just devices such as televisions, fridges and microwaves that fall under this definition, but also passive devices without their own electricity supply such as USB sticks or charging and connection cables. This is based on a change to the Electrical Devices Act in Germany that came into effect on 01.05.2019. Since then, the Act has also covered passive devices.
Even products that many people would intuitively not consider electrical devices are now covered by the Act. This means that the obligations and requirements now also apply, say, to battery-operated watches, safes with electronic locks and furniture with integrated lighting.
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The German Electrical Devices Act – § 9, labelling obligations (WEEE labelling)
Under § 9 of the German Electrical Devices Act, distributors must apply special labelling to the devices they bring to market. In the common parlance, the labels required are also known as “WEEE labels” after the European WEEE Directive on which the Electrical Devices Act is based.
WEEE labelling involves, among others, applying to the device the name of the device manufacturer or appropriate brand name under which the device is registered with the Stiftung EAR (the used electrical devices registry foundation). Products intended for end consumers must also be labelled with a crossed-out waste bin. This indicates that the product must not be disposed of in household waste. There are exceptions made, however, under the German Electrical Devices Act: in certain cases, the symbol can be placed not on the device but on its packaging, user instructions or warranty certificate.
In addition to the labelling obligations, the German Electrical Devices Act requires distributors to provide information to private households under § 18 ElektroG. The section requires that information be given on the consequences of improper disposal of used electrical devices, on the responsibility of end users for deleting all personal data from them before disposal, and on the meaning of the crossed-out waste bin symbol. Beyond these sections, further obligations to inform are set out in § 18 of the Electrical Devices Act and further labelling obligations in § 9 of the German Electrical Devices Act.
Image: WEEE labelling obligations are set out in the Electrical Devices Act, requiring all products intended for end users to receive the symbol of a crossed-out waste bin.
The German Electrical Devices Act: WEEE labelling abroad
Depending on the country in which the device is brought to market, there may be a need for various different WEEE labels. For example, there has been an obligation in France since 2021 to apply the “Triman Logo” to electrical devices or their packaging. Regarding WEEE labelling abroad, the following must be noted: the country-specific rules not only apply to companies headquartered in the country in question, but to everyone bringing a product to its market or distributing it there. Accordingly, the WEEE labelling obligation also applies, for example, to exporters.
Do you have questions about the Electrical Devices Act labelling obligations and how the Act works in Germany? Get in contact with us – we are happy to help!
The German Electrical Devices Act: the obligation to accept used electrical devices under the Electrical Devices Act
For (online) dealers, the Electrical Devices Act may entail return obligations. If at least 400 m2 of their shipping, warehousing and sales area per premises in Germany are dedicated to electronic and electrical devices, they must provide suitable return options for electrical devices “at a reasonable distance from the customer”. The devices returned can be collected as per the Electrical Devices Act and then either handed over to public disposal services, authorised representatives or return systems. It is also possible to hire a certified disposal company.
Accordingly, the following applies under the German Electrical Devices Act: returns only need to be ensured for devices used in private homes. If, when a device is returned, a device of the same type is sold, the return must be free of charge (1:1 returns). Regardless of whether an electrical device is sold at the same time, dealers must accept back up to five devices per customer free of charge (0:1 return) – on the precondition that none of the external dimensions of the used device is longer than 25 cm. For customers, returns must be free of charge. Any shipping or collection costs accruing, for example, if the return is made to an online retailer, must be borne by the customer.
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The German Electrical Devices Act: B2B and B2C customers
The German Electrical Devices Act differentiates between business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) devices. Accordingly, the following applies: B2B devices are electrical and electronic equipment expressly not intended for domestic use or which should not rightly be used in private households. The distributor must give credible proof of this when making the application for registration.
If this is not considered credible, the devices must be considered B2C equipment under the German Electrical Devices Act. Unlike B2B devices, B2C devices are those that can be used in private households, say, in apartments or gardens. Thus, it is not the distribution channel that defines whether the Act considers a device B2B or B2C, but the final place of use.
The German Electrical Devices Act in summary
The obligations as defined by the German Electrical Devices Act apply to all those who commercially:
- manufacture products under their own brand name and first bring them to market in Germany.
- sell on electrical and electronic devices from other providers as part of their own product and/or under their own brand name in Germany.
- import electrical devices to Germany and bring them to market there.
What are the consequences of failing to obtain a licence under the German Electrical Devices Act?
Violations of the registration and return obligations under the German Electrical Devices Act are a civil offence that can be punished by a six-figure fine. Obligated parties registering with the Stiftung EAR receive an eight-figure WEEE number to be used in daily business transactions similarly to a VAT ID number. In addition, all companies subject to obligations are listed in a public register. Thus, the transparency for third parties and consequent risk are all the greater. Incorrect registration or failure to register is considered a civil offence under the German Electrical Devices Act and is also classified as a cautionable anti-competitive violation. This has the desirable effect of ensuring the market self-regulates.
Obligated parties registering with the Stiftung EAR receive an eight-figure WEEE number to be used in daily business transactions similarly to a VAT ID number. In addition, all companies subject to obligations are listed in a public register. Consequently, the transparency for third parties and subsequent risk of a warning under the Electrical Devices Act are all the greater. This has the desirable effect of ensuring the market self-regulates.
The German Electrical Devices Act – fulfilling manufacturer obligations easily
Every obligated manufacturer, distributor, importer and direct shipper must, under the German Electrical Devices Act, be registered with the responsible authority (Stiftung EAR) before it can bring the relevant products to market. Even just offering electrical devices requires registration. Registration under the German Electrical Devices Act is a laborious procedure. Put simply, manufacturers need to take and fulfil the following three stages:
- registration of all brands/device types on the basis of planned annual quantities – from approval and receipt of the WEEE number, monthly actual quantities and year-end reporting as per the German Electrical Devices Act
- creation of insolvency-proof guarantees with security for the recourse actions of the EAR – extent depends on planned quantities
- ensuring collection containers for used electrical devices are emptied at recycling centres. Manufacturers are assigned collection/provision orders (disposal orders) across Germany and must have the containers collected within 96 hours.
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