Computer equipment manufacturers will be forced to take back and recycle their products, once they have reached the end of their useful lives, if two proposed directives from the European Commission are backed by EU ministers.
Brussels has tabled a new "directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment" and a "directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment."
The former would establish separate collection and recycling systems for electrical and electronic waste - including IT equipment - to minimise the amount of obsolete kit being disposed of in landfill sites and incinerators.
Under the directives, EU member states would be required to organise this collection of IT waste from private households and businesses. Manufacturers would then be responsible for ensuring that their old models were sent from designated collection facilities to certified treatment centres. These would have to ensure that a minimum proportion of the old hardware was recycled or reused.
If approved, the directives will come into force no later than 2006, and, depending on the product, the percentage of IT waste required to be recycled would be between 60% and 80%.
It is hoped that the directives will provide incentives for producers to take into account at the product design stage the need to reduce the use of hazardous substances and to improve potential for recycling.