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FRAM at Almedalen - New chemical tax on electronics - what's the point?

FRAM together with University of Gothenburg and Västsvenska arenan hosted a seminar "New chemical tax on electronics - what's the point?" at Almedalen Political Week*. The seminar was held in Swedish - "Ny kemikalieskatt på elektronik - till vilken nytta?" and was  videostreamed (clicking on the photo below or here).

Participants from left to right; Mikael Karlsson (President, The European Environmental Bureau, researcher KTH); Åsa Romson, Member of Parliament, Chairman of the EU Committee (MP); Susann Lundström, Partner KPMG; Moderator: Pernilla Rendahl, the FRAM centre at the University of Gothenburg.

From July 1, there is a new tax on certain chemicals (flame retardants) in some electronic products (TVs, mobiles, tablets, white goods, etc.). The purpose of the tax is to reduce the occurrence, spread and exposure of hazardous flame retardants in people's home environment. Technically, is the electronics that are taxed, but it is the flame retardants used in the products that the tax is supposed to target. However, consumers who buy goods directly from other countries are not affected by this tax as the tax only applies on electronics that are purchased from companies within Sweden. Many have been positive, but there has also been hard criticism.

Read more about the tax on chemicals here.

During the seminar, the new chemical tax was used as an example to highlight basic issues regarding taxes as a means of achieving an environmental goal. The seminar was led by moderator Pernilla Rendahl that introduced the subject briefly and thereafter followed a debate on the pros and cons of the new chemical tax and policy instruments in general. The panel did agree that we certainly don’t want hazardous chemicals in any type of products. All also found it odd or even scary that we in 2017 know so little about which chemicals that are present in our common electronic products and also whether they are hazardous or safe, or something in between.

When it came to the specific tax on electronics, which is now implemented from 1st of July there were several different views. The panel partly agreed that policy instruments such as the new tax are needed to minimize the use of hazardous chemicals. Åsa Romson pointed out that all new taxes that are introduced are met with skepticism and critique by those affected by it. However, Susann Lundström pointed out that the current tax on electronics are too clumsy and not fair as it only applies when products are sold within Sweden. Mikael Karlsson clearly stated that policy instruments are indeed needed and if to wait for the perfect instrument then there will never be a change.

A question brought up by the audience was concerning that the tax applies also when re-selling re-cycled electronics and how that was in compliance with the current thrive for circular economy? The answer was clear; we should not start circulating hazardous chemicals. Plus, if we have problems knowing what chemicals that are present in new products it seems impossible to know what is in the older ones.

Åsa Romson clearly highlighted the need for more research on environmental taxation.

*Almedalen Political Week is the most important and progressive political gathering in Sweden. It takes place in the capital of Gotland, Visby. Every year, for a week during the summer, politicians, business people, NGOs and investors from all over Scandinavia and other countries meet to discuss how best to foster the economy and enhance social objectives.

Read more about Almedalsveckan here.