New IT waste disposal laws will affect you

Feature

New IT waste disposal laws will affect you

An EU directive on the disposal of old computer hardware will become part of UK law in 2004, but many IT departments are ignorant of the business implications.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive quietly passed into European law earlier this year and will become law in the UK by August 2004. It requires IT suppliers and users to dispose of electrical equipment in an environmentally friendly way and encourages the recycling of materials and refurbishing old kit.

From 2005, IT suppliers will be responsible for collecting and safely disposing of IT and telecoms equipment they have sold. However, IT departments also need to make sure their old kit is disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner or risk being fined.

Unfortunately, awareness of the directive in the UK is still limited and IT departments could be caught out unless they redouble their efforts to prepare for and comply with it. A recent survey by European waste disposal giant Sita found that 81% of UK companies had not heard of the directive and only 4% were familiar with it.

Upgrade cycles

Hugh Peltor, director at Intellect, an association that represents the IT, telecoms and electronics industries, warned that IT leaders need to know the directive thoroughly and factor it into their upgrade cycles.

"IT managers and IT directors need to get their act together," he said. "An IT manager with any sort of bulk purchase can pass the problem on to their supplier - otherwise they will have to pay for kit to be taken away and recycled."

Although many IT managers already have programmes in place to deal with old kit, Peltor said the difference now is that they need to ensure that the kit is safely disposed of and does not turn up in a tip somewhere.

A key problem is the disposal of "historic" waste, which under the directive means anything produced before 2005. Although the WEEE rules largely place the burden of collecting and recycling or safely disposing of IT equipment on IT suppliers, there are issues about the disposal of historical waste and financing that affect IT departments.

Pete Kenyon, a solicitor in the technology and commerce group at law firm Boyes Turner, said the burden of financing will rest with businesses until 2005 - only after that will it rest with producers.

Users fear the costs of greener manufacturing techniques and recycling programmes will ultimately be passed on to them. Phil Reakes, managing director at recycling firm Selway Moore, said this would be inevitable.

Peltor urged the government to do more to shoulder the burden, support the IT industry and help to set up the infrastructure needed to support recycling.

Further rules

The impact of the WEEE Directive will be compounded by the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (ROHS) Directive. This states that, from 1 July 2006, electrical and electronic equipment on the market must not contain certain materials, including lead, mercury and cadmium. This will require the introduction of new materials, such as lead-free solder.

"IT managers need a policy - they need something in place so they are seen to be conforming with the directive," said Reakes, who pointed out that IT directors should also be aware of their duties under other UK legislation, such as the Data Protection Act, when disposing of old kit.

The current lack of clarity and transparency in the WEEE directive is also a key concern among suppliers, who fear it will be interpreted differently in each member state. This could force them to implement multiple programmes, resulting in increased prices for customers.

Dell, for example, which recently launched a recycling initiative aimed at consumers in the US, has no formal offerings in Europe. A Dell spokesman stressed that it will look at improving offerings aimed at the commercial space in Europe but it is waiting until the WEEE Directive becomes clearer. "The variable in Europe is the WEEE Directive - some points are still unclear, like the collection of historical waste, and there may be variables from country to country," he said.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Earlier this month Intellect and the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances met other industry bodies to look at ways of carrying out the WEEE rules in the UK.

The Department of Trade & Industry is working with the IT industry on the current government consultation about the WEEE Directive and aims to raise awareness of it. The current consultation period will end this month but another is planned for the autumn. "We are keeping the IT sector in the loop - IT managers and IT directors need to be aware of these directives because they will affect the whole IT supply chain," said a DTI spokesman.

The DTI welcomes the involvement of IT departments in its WEEE and ROHS consultation process, he said.

Reakes also emphasised the importance of IT chiefs making their voices heard. "IT directors should take a lead and then they can also make sure that they influence policy when it is implemented," he said.

Pete Kenyon, a solicitor in the technology and commerce group at law firm Boyes Turner, said the burden of financing will rest with businesses until 2005 - only after that will it rest with producers.

Users fear the costs of greener manufacturing techniques and recycling programmes will ultimately be passed on to them. Phil Reakes, managing director at recycling firm Selway Moore, said this would be inevitable.

Peltor urged the government to do more to shoulder the burden, support the IT industry and help to set up the infrastructure needed to support recycling.

Further rules

The impact of the WEEE Directive will be compounded by the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (ROHS) Directive. This states that, from 1 July 2006, electrical and electronic equipment on the market must not contain certain materials, including lead, mercury and cadmium. This will require the introduction of new materials, such as lead-free solder.

"IT managers need a policy - they need something in place so they are seen to be conforming with the directive," said Reakes, who pointed out that IT directors should also be aware of their duties under other UK legislation, such as the Data Protection Act, when disposing of old kit.

The current lack of clarity and transparency in the WEEE directive is also a key concern among suppliers, who fear it will be interpreted differently in each member state. This could force them to implement multiple programmes, resulting in increased prices for customers.

Dell, for example, which recently launched a recycling initiative aimed at consumers in the US, has no formal offerings in Europe. A Dell spokesman stressed that it will look at improving offerings aimed at the commercial space in Europe but it is waiting until the WEEE Directive becomes clearer. "The variable in Europe is the WEEE Directive - some points are still unclear, like the collection of historical waste, and there may be variables from country to country," he said.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Earlier this month Intellect and the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances met other industry bodies to look at ways of carrying out the WEEE rules in the UK.

The Department of Trade & Industry is working with the IT industry on the current government consultation about the WEEE Directive and aims to raise awareness of it. The current consultation period will end this month but another is planned for the autumn. "We are keeping the IT sector in the loop - IT managers and IT directors need to be aware of these directives because they will affect the whole IT supply chain," said a DTI spokesman.

The DTI welcomes the involvement of IT departments in its WEEE and ROHS consultation process, he said.

Reakes also emphasised the importance of IT chiefs making their voices heard. "IT directors should take a lead and then they can also make sure that they influence policy when it is implemented," he said.

More on the WEEE Directive  www.environment-agency.gov.uk/netregs/legislation/380525/473094 


Tips for safely disposing of old hardware

  • Upgrade old kit or sell it to a specialist firm that can refurbish it and sell it on
  • Find out whether your supplier has an IT disposal policy to comply with the WEEE Directive
  • Set up employee purchase schemes for old hardware
  • Large companies should consider outsourcing the disposal function to an IT services firm
  • Consider buying refurbished equipment, which can save money - but make sure it comes with a warranty
  • Donate old PCs to charities such as Computer Aid International which, for a small fee, will collect them. CAI sends refurbished PCs to not-for-profit organisations worldwide and unusable kit to its recycling partner, Silver Lining, which strips the 95% of parts that can be recycled and disposes of the rest. It also wipes data from the machines free of charge. www.computer-aid.org

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This was first published in May 2003

 

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