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Even small companies must provide free, environmentally-sound disposal of the electronic equipment they sell, according to new government guidelines (PDF) intended to clarify the WEEE Regulations.

The government has published guidelines for the sellers and users of electrical and electronic goods on how to stay on the right side of new laws regarding their disposal. The guidelines are designed to help clarify Europe's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations.

"There are no exemptions for SMEs under the WEEE Directive, and hence the WEEE Regulations apply to all businesses regardless of size," said the guidance which has been issued by the Department of Trade and Industry.

"Distributors of EEE [electrical or electronic equipment] have responsibilities in terms of the provision of facilities to enable the free take-back of household WEEE by final holders or end users and the provision of certain information to consumers of EEE," the guidance said. "However the government is working to ensure that any costs to SMEs are not disproportionate."

The regulations were put to Parliament in December last year and come into force this year. Most of the duties relating to the disposal of material come into effect in July, but from April, retailers and distributors must mark products with WEEE information and provide consumers with information about the WEEE Regulations.

The guidance gives definitions of who exactly counts as a producer of WEEE, and is therefore governed by the regulations. "You are a producer for the purposes of the WEEE Regulations if you are: a manufacturer of EEE, selling under your own brand in the UK; or a business based in the UK selling under your own brand EEE manufactured by another person; or a professional importer introducing EEE to the UK market; or a business based in the UK that places EEE in other European Members States by means of distance selling," it said.

The guidance also defines a distributor of WEEE as someone who is a retailer or wholesaler of new equipment.

"The main obligation on distributors is to provide a take-back service to householders enabling them to return their WEEE free of charge," said the guidelines. "The WEEE Regulations provide you with a choice of providing "in-store" take-back or participating in the Distributor Take-back Scheme, or providing an alternative system for free take-back for householders."

The DTI advice also outlines what consumers can expect. Though they have no obligations under the new rules and can deposit old equipment in WEEE sections at municipal dumps, it does point out that the regulations do not give householders the right to free pick up of equipment from their home.

The guidance also gives details of producer compliance schemes, information for local authorities and in depth information for producers and distributors of their obligations under the new law.

The DTI also announced that Valpak had been chosen to operate the distributor take back scheme which the Regulations say must be put in place.

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

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