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Computer waste law becomes active after long delays

WEEE hits us all

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Laws forcing suppliers of IT equipment to dispose of it free of charge in an environmentally sound manner have come into force in the UK.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive of the European Commission became law in the UK on 2nd January. It was originally intended to be transposed into all European laws by August 2004 but was delayed several times.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 take immediate effect, but state that suppliers do not have to take full responsibility for the disposal of goods until 1st July this year.

The law forces manufacturers to recycle and dispose of used equipment in an attempt to stem the harm that is caused by the dumping of used technological materials.

With a high rate of turnover of machines as businesses attempt to keep up with a constant upgrade cycle, the Directive could make a major impact on the environmental impact of using hardware.

The Directive could also push up hardware prices, though, as manufacturers seek to recover the costs of recycling and environmental disposal on such a massive industrial scale.

The Directive could also have implications for users of equipment. Though penalties are attached to suppliers of hardware, their users share some of the responsibility for equipment disposal. A recent survey found that almost 75 per cent of IT staff were unaware of their own duties under WEEE.

There is no definitive list of exactly what equipment is affected by the Directive. The DTI says that it cannot issue a list, and that only the European Court of Justice can provide definitive rulings on exactly what equipment is covered. Those are: large household appliances; small household appliances; IT & telecommunications equipment; consumer equipment; lighting equipment; electrical and electronic tools; toys, leisure and sports equipment; medical devices; monitoring and control instruments, and automatic dispensers.

Manufacturers are now tied to a strict timetable. They must join a producer compliance scheme by March of this year, and must fully comply with all rules by April if they are handling hazardous WEEE. Others must obey all disposal rules by July.

One research consultancy, Gartner, has estimated that the new law could eventually add up to £60 to the price of computers as manufacturers recover the extra costs from users.

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OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Related link

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2006 (67-page / 415KB PDF)

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