A recent Dell survey revealed that 30 per cent of firms throw away their unwanted IT. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive aims to change all that. Paul Sharville maps out life in the green lane
04 February 2005
The European Weee Directive requires producers and resellers of electrical and electronic equipment to finance collection arrangements for their products at end-of-life. This includes the cost of appropriate treatment and meeting specific targets for recycling and recovery. The directive does not just apply to new products. Producers will be made responsible collectively for their goods that are already on the market. The Weee Directive becomes effective in August, but by mid-2005 all affected companies must have in place appropriate measures to meet it.
If you are not in the business of manufacturing electrical and electronic equipment then you are not directly bound by the directive, but the relationship with your IT supplier will change in terms of end-of-life strategies and the additional cost of them complying with the directive. And you do have responsibilities under other legislation.
The cost to the UK economy of complying with the Weee Directive is expected to be
£217-£455 million per annum. The European Commission estimates an average cost increase of one-two per cent for most Weee products and three-four per cent for large or more complex products. You are likely to see an increase in the cost of your equipment in response to increased costs for manufacturers to become Weee Directive compliant. You may even be directly charged for the privilege of having your equipment taken away. This means you will need to factor in the cost of Weee collection by producers and the cost of recycling services offered by third party organisations to your business.
The directive has stated that collection of household Weee should be free to householders. Not so for business Weee. In order to support manufacturers, the directive has left the decision as to who pays for collection to the producers and the businesses they supply. There is provision for the business discarding the Weee to share costs with the obligated producer, or even pay all costs. While at least one producer is claiming that the customer is unlikely to be affected by the changes, detailed plans are still evolving. The DTI has stated that this will be a commercial decision and is likely to form part of negotiations for future contracts.
Another interesting detail in the directive is that producers only have to take back equipment on a one-to-one basis when linked to sales. So if you're not buying as much as they're taking back, you are responsible for disposing of the difference in old kit. This element of the directive is part of the ongoing consultation, but whatever the likely outcome, you should seek clarity with your supplying partners.
The spirit of the directive - to encourage sustainable practices - is something that every right-thinking business should be investing in. As heavy users of equipment, businesses and organisations should be supporting the directive in adopting recycling. But because end users are not currently bound by the directive, recycling remains an ethical decision, decided by businesses own priorities under self-imposed corporate social responsibility initiatives. The truth is, both arguments are somewhat academic. Soon you will be either legally obliged to pay your part, or the economic arguments for recycling will be irresistible.
Legally, the DTI has advised that there is likely to be future legislation contained in, or linked to, the Weee Directive that focuses on increased business-user responsibility, before the ink is dry on the current directive. Under two new waste developments, disposal is set to become prohibitively expensive and more onerous.
First, the European Waste Catalogue will bring approximately 200 new types of waste, including electrical and electronic products, into the definition of 'hazardous', where they were previously classed as 'controlled'. Disposing of hazardous waste is a more complicated affair for end users and it costs more to do it.
Second, the Landfill Directive is about to reduce the number of UK landfill sites able to process hazardous waste from 250 to 11. The implications are less places to dispose of hazardous waste and a hefty bill when you do find somewhere: gate fees will rise, transport costs will be higher and landfill tax is heading towards £35 per tonne from £10 in 1999).
The upshot of this is that costs will be passed to businesses and recycling will be the most viable cost alternative for unwanted equipment.
So, it's going to be good to be green, for lots of reasons. But are you off the hook, legally? No. Other legislation places responsible waste disposal firmly at your door, and has done for some time. Way before the Weee Directive there was the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Under the act, you have a duty of care when it comes to the disposal of your waste, including Weee. This says you must take all reasonable steps to keep waste safe. If you break this law, you can be fined an unlimited amount.
Finally, even if the Weee Directive remains the responsibility of producers, don't underestimate the potential to become 'guilty by association' in the event of your favourite producer being prosecuted for contravention. If equipment is found to have been dumped negligently and can be traced to your organisation, when the producer or reseller goes to court, you can at least be sure of receiving some high-profile negative publicity and finding a stubborn stain on your green suit of Corporate Social Responsibility.
The aim of the Weee directive is pretty unambiguous. The targets for IT recovery and recycling are 75 per cent and 65 per cent respectively by the end of 2006. As the directive begins to take hold, it is worth watching developments. You can have greater negotiating strength but only once you fully understand the lay of the green and pleasant land.
Paul Sharville is communications manager at Harrow Green