WEEE – What is it good for?

The UK Department of Trade and industry (DTI) last month released its final plans for the implementation of the EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive which over the past couple of years has caused a great deal of controversy.The directive focuses on the disposing of old electrical and electronic equipment by making manufacturers responsible for taking back and recycling products that have come to an end of their natural lifecycle.

There are of course people arguing on both sides of the fence both for and against WEEE which I will discuss this week in Click since my technologically savvy readers will quite clearly be affected by it in some way or another.

On the positive side this directive should result in several benefits to the environment by providing manufacturers with an incentive to design their equipment in a more environmentally conscious manner. Additionally the directive will provide the consumer with an avenue to return their waste equipment to the distributor free of charge rather than feeling that they should simply chuck it in the bin.

The downside is that many believe WEEE will result in prices of electronic and electrical prices rising as firms pass on these recycling costs on to the consumer.Many European countries force manufacturers to publish the recycling levy on the price tags of affected products which is something that the UK is not going to enforce although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.Pricing goods at a base price with a recycling cost added on top could be detrimental as once a visible fee is introduced it would most probably settle at a certain level.This could remove the incentive for producers to develop more efficient recycling processes and product designs that drive down the cost of recycling in an attempt to become more competitive.

Ultimately I don’t think that many will argue that WEEE is a bad idea because with every UK consumer producing around three tons of affected material in their lifetime it doesn’t take long to realise there is a finite amount of time this material can simply be transferred to landfill.The affected material is quite often hazardous, containing materials such as mercury, lead and cadmium which seep into the soil around the landfill site causing lasting environmental damage.

The price argument I believe is personally unfounded because in my opinion the cost of imposing a WEEE recycling directive doesn’t invent a new cost but rather transfers the existing cost of maintaining and creating landfills to a different initiative.The additional costs that are generated by passing the recycling costs along to the manufacturers should then theoretically then saved by the tax payer in reduced landfill costs.Of course this does assume that the cost savings for existing landfill construction and waste management are passed along which in an imperfect world is not guaranteed to happen.

Of course there are flaws in WEEE and one that springs to mind has been bought up by the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances who correctly states their members will have to pick up the bill of recycling products produced by companies that have now gone out of business.This new directive is by no means perfect but unfortunately it isn’t possible to enforce the responsibility in a completely fair way.

The WEEE directive was initially supposed to have been implemented under European Union plans back in 2005 but continual postponements by the UK mean that we are one of the last member states to adopt the proposals.A date of July 2007 has now been set by the government and those who feel that they may be affected by this new directive should head to the Department of Trade and Industry’s website (www.dti.gov.uk) to find out more.

Personally I welcome the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment initiative and believe that faced with the alternative environmental consequences most of you will join me.


About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.