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The WEEE Directive: a primer

"The broad aim of the WEEE Directive is to address the environmental impacts of WEEE and to encourage its separate collection and subsequent treatment, reuse, recovery, recycling and environmentally sound disposal." (Department of Trade & Industry)

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive is European legislation that has been subjected to a series of delays with regard to its implementation in the UK. Recently, the government has announced that full producer responsibility will commence on 1 July 2007. This means that companies who produce electrical and electronic equipment will be obliged to take responsibility for these products once they've reached the end of their useful life.

What is the scope of the WEEE directive?

Producers, distributors and importers of electrical and electronic products will be affected if the products are within the scope of the regulations (see list below). To find out how the WEEE directive will affect your business, use the "are you obligated?" interactive questionnaire at:

Whilst households do not have to comply, producers must at least provide "the collection, treatment, recovery and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE from private households deposited at collection facilities." (Directive 2002/96/EC) The following classes of equipment have been stated as coming under the WEEE legislation:

1. Large household appliances
2. Small household appliances
3. IT and telecommunications equipment
4. Consumer equipment
5. Lighting equipment
6. Electrical and electronic tools with the exception of large-scale stationary industrial tools
7. Toys, leisure and sports equipment
8. Medical products (with the exception of implanted and infectious products)
9. Monitoring and control instruments
10. Automatic dispensers

Why is the WEEE legislation becoming law across Europe?

Every year, homeowners and companies in the UK alone discard an estimated one million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment. Much of this ends up in landfills and has been known to contaminate the surrounding environment with toxic waste. Dumping WEEE into landfills is also a waste of resources, which could either be recycled to make new equipment or especially with regard to old I.T. equipment could be refurbished and sent to third world countries.

The WEEE directive is based upon producer responsibility, which encourages manufacturers to develop production practices that favour safe disposal and recycling. According to government website, one of the aims of the WEEE is to:

* make producers of EEE [electrical and electronic equipment] responsible for the environmental impact of their products, especially when they become waste.

By 31 December 2006, member states adopting the WEEE directive must collect an average of at least 4 kilograms per inhabitant of waste electrical and electronic equipment from private households. Whilst households will not be legally bound to dispose of WEEE in accordance with the upcoming legislation, this will encourage producers as well as the government and local councils to provide the facilities by which household WEEE can be processed and recycled in accordance with legal guidelines.

Problems with the WEEE directive

Consumers should brace themselves for an increase in the retail prices of EEE to compensate for the massive infrastructure required to support the legal requirements laid out in the WEEE directive. Some speculate that this "visible fee" could be as much as 10%.

Any business that uses IT equipment and does not order replacements from a supplier on a "like for like" basis will be responsible for financing the collection, treatment, recovery and disposal of IT equipment themselves. This presents potential hurdles to businesses, which must consider who is liable for the disposal of IT equipment and WEEE, as well as planning for the financial, strategic and legal issues that will arise when the directive becomes law.

About the Author: Article by Neil Yeomans: Computer Disposal - WEEE compliant computer disposal and recyling services.

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