Opinion

Do not ignore your responsibilities under European hardware recycling directives

MarkOConor_150

Is your business prepared for the effect of EU directives enforcing recycling?

The cumbersome titles of two recent EU directives should not prevent IT user organisations taking their implications for business seriously.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, and its sister, the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Directive, have compliance implications for organisations up and down the manufacturer to customer chain.

But how much of an issue is it? Companies jumped at the threat of Y2K and the associated compliance issues, and although some problems did occur, the millennium bug meant increased expenditure for many organisations.

With so much new regulation in recent years - on distance selling, e-commerce, freedom of information and so on - and the threat of more to come, one could be forgiven for being sceptical about the application of these directives and the consequences of non-compliance.

The legal deadline for implementation of the WEEEDirective is 13 August 2005. It encourages and sets criteria for the collection, treatment, recycling and recovery of electrical and electronic equipment. Although it  makes producers responsible for financing most of these activities, users will have to think about their role in fulfilling these obligations. 

Producers have to finance the treatment of waste, but individual member states of the EU can make users partly or wholly responsible for costs. Previously they only needed to budget for end-of-life of PCs, but under the directive they will need to budget for purchases that include the costs of recycling.

The RoHS Directive complements the WEEE Directive, and was to be established in the UK by 13 August 2004. However, the Department of Trade & Industry has not yet finalised the implementing regulations.

The aim of the RoHS Directive is to restrict the use of certain substances used in the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment that is put on sale after 1 July 2006, to protect human health and the environment.

The RoHS Directive applies to any producer within the EU and to producers of electrical and electronic equipment (including PC printers) outside Europe if the equipment they produce is imported into an EU member state. A producer is defined widely to include anyone who manufactures, sells, resells, imports or exports electrical and electronic equipment, irrespective of the method of selling.

A DTI discussion paper proposes to introduce standard penalties of up to three months in prison and/or a fine of up to £5,000 for persons found to be in breach of the regulations. Where the offence is tried on indictment the maximum penalties will be imprisonment for two years and an unlimited fine.

So what should IT directors do about the directives? At the very least, potentially affected organisations should familiarise themselves with the legislation.

It would be wise to undertake a technical audit, to determine which products and/or systems are likely to be affected by these directives.

Establish whether the products concerned relate to a particular end-of-life cycle - such as upgrading, repair or refurbishment - then undertake a contractual audit of problematic areas such as examining agreements to see who needs to sort the problem out and who should pay.

Whatever you do, don't ignore these regulations. If you do n0t get the better of them it is ikely they will get the better of you.

Regulations at a glance

Producers must set up systems for the collection, treatment, recovery and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment under provisions of the WEEEDirective.

The RoHS Directive restricts the use of certain hazardous substances in new electrical and electronic equipment.

The directives cover a wide range of electrical and electronic products, although some are exempt from certain requirements.

Non-exempt categories include:

  • Household appliances
  • IT and telecoms equipment
  • Consumer hardware (TVs, etc)
  • Lighting and tools
  • Toys, leisure & sports equipment
  • Medical devices.

Any business that manufactures, brands or imports electrical or electronic products within the EU will be affected, as will businesses selling electrical items or those that store, treat or dismantle  waste electrical and electronic equipment.

Source: www.environment-agency.gov.uk

Mark O'Conor is a partner at law firm DLA Piper

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This was first published in July 2005

 

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