PC builders – or garbage collectors?

Binmen of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your margins

The European Commission (EC) proposed a Directive yesterday aimed at making PC builders responsible for paying to recycle returned kit.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive could take a year to get through the European Parliament. It may have an uphill struggle as it has already been subjected to fierce lobbying from European retailers and manufacturers. And now the US Trade Representative - acting on behalf of US computer industry trade associations - is joining in.

This body is worried because the Directive, which will for the first time hold manufacturers responsible for recycling obsolete products, will apply to all companies doing business in Europe - including those based in the US.

After getting through the European Parliament, it will then be up to each individual member state to decide how to implement the Directive in their own country. European governments will then have a maximum of 18 months to decide on legislation.

The proposal aims to cut environmental damage caused by dumped electronic and electrical products - and a large chunk of this comes from computers. In the next five years a third of a billion computers will become obsolete - and while 90 per cent of computer contents can be recycled, only about six per cent of obsolete PCs were recycled in 1998.

The only targets set so far regarding recycling computers involve weight. Manufacturers will have to ensure that recycling companies make parts equaling 65 per cent of the weight of each PC re-usable.

How the Directive will affect the UK depends on a business's position in the PC market. For consumer sales, the government is likely to put the onus on the manufacturers themselves like IBM or Compaq, according to Joy Boyce, chairman of advisory body the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER).

Retailers or resellers would be responsible for collecting old goods from consumers, but the cost of recycling would fall to the original PC vendor.

However, the situation is likely to be different for system builders. The recycling cost could either fall to them or to the business customer, depending on UK government legislation. ®

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