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WEEE are the Champions

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The European parliament this week voted through some amendments to the proposed The Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which mean that manufacturers will have to pay only for the recycling of their own kit.

Under previous proposals, manufacturers were collectively responsible for the handling of waste products - which meant in theory that IBM, say, could be landed with a bill for recycling the PCs of a bust system builder.

The WEEE Directive has been under discussion since almost before I was born and is to be rolled out across the European Union over the next couple of years. It sets minimum targets for the recycling of electronics equipment and establishers rules for the safe disposal of unusable (as opposed to 'obsolete' products. It also enshrines the concept of 'polluter pays'.

The computer and electronics industries, and electronics retailers, have had years to get used to WEEE, but still, they are up in arms.

IBEC, an Irish trade body, ludicrously, reckons that new recycling laws will discourage investment in the European Union, and this comes in the form of a warning from a Mary Kelly, the head of IBEC's environmental unit.

The UK's Engineering Engineers Federation (EEF)warns that British consumers will have to pay more because of new EU recycling laws. Electronics Weekly's headline writer goes even further UK consumers to be hit by recycling scheme, says EEF.

It reckons that the new rules will cost the electronics industry an extra £1bn a year, and there will be a one-off cost of £5bn for waste products created in the run up to the implementation of the directive.

Then there is Orgalime, a representative of 30-odd European trade groups, which is unhappy that under present rules, companies could be forced to collect goods from private homes. They want the collecting done at the local authority level.

We've not heard a dickey bow from electronics retailers, as the polluter pays principle means that responsibility is placed firmly in the lap of the manufacturers.

Let's get this straight. The WEEE Directive is a good thing. Polluter Pays is a good thing. The current state of play sees consumers - as tax-payers - paying to clear up the crap. This is a hidden subsidy of electronics manufacturers and by extension, consumers as purchasers of electronics goods.

The WEEE Directive will encourage investment - in recycling firms, in logistics businesses, in collection agents, in cleaner extraction techniques. Manufacturers will set to ways of making their goods easier to recycle and dispose. The European Union has got it right. ®

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