Get wise on waste

One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers and importers of electrical and electronic products is preparing for ‘full producer responsibility’ under the WEEE Directive, says Stuart Ballinger.


One of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers and importers of electrical and electronic products is preparing for ‘full producer responsibility’ under the terms of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which was implemented this month.

The legislation has been introduced to control the growing problem of electrical waste entering landfill sites and provide a greater incentive for producers to consider the lifecycle of their products and opportunities for re-use and recycling.

Most products where electricity is the main power source — even those as simple as a lamp, alarm clock, video game or toaster — will need to meet the requirements of the directive, including those that are re-branded in the UK.

The regulations, which will impact on all producers regardless of their turnover, market share or number of employees, will become fully effective on 1 July.

Producers will then be responsible for financing the collection and treatment of their products at the end of their useful life. This applies across 10 main product categories including IT and telecoms, household appliances, medical electrical devices and selected sports and leisure equipment.

However, companies must first join an approved producer compliance scheme and demonstrate to the Environment Agency by 15 March how they intend to recycle and collect the waste. This will include paying a registration fee and detailing how much electrical and electronic equipment they place on the market each year.

Manufacturers will be required to pay in relation to their market share of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) when the rules are fully transposed into UK law later this year.

To help prepare, Envirowise recommends that businesses collect data on the amount of EEE they placed on the market in 2006 and consider joining a compliance scheme now.

Some of the main operators include Valpak, Repic and b2b compliance. The Environment Agency has also published further details on its website.

All new products placed on the market from 1 April will need to show a crossed-out wheelie bin symbol, along with a producer identification and date mark.

The rules for producers differ, depending on the type of customer they are supplying. For instance, businesses selling products destined for consumer use will need to offer financed collection and recycling of household WEEE that is deposited at local collection facilities — either in-store or at civic amenity sites.

Producers of equipment used commercially, known as business-to-business (B2B) producers, will need to offer collection direct from the business premises for new products placed on the market after August 2005 using a licensed waste carrier — unless the customer has accepted contractual responsibility for end-of-life treatment and disposal of the product.

For older equipment sold before August 2005 (historic WEEE), which is replaced by a new product to fulfil the same function, the producer who sells the new product must finance the costs of collecting and recycling the original equipment regardless of who sold it.

For other historic WEEE (where the business end-user does not buy a replacement product, for example) the end-user is responsible for financing the collection and recycling of the equipment.

Many businesses have raised concerns about meeting the costs of complying with regulations. Simply passing this on to consumers could mean a company eventually loses market share. But by identifying more sustainable techniques to minimise the use of materials — from design through to its eventual use — a company can often generate long-term efficiencies and opportunities to innovate, thereby helping to offset costs incurred by fulfilling the terms set out in the directive.

In particular, designing products with eventual separation and recovery in mind could help companies recover WEEE components and create opportunities for re-use at end-of-life.

Manufacturers and retailers of EEE can access free advice and information about the directive and cleaner design opportunities from Envirowise or call the confidential helpline 0800 585 794.


Dr Stuart Ballinger is programme delivery leader for Envirowise