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Last Updated: Friday, 1 April, 2005, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
UK puts back e-waste law to 2006
E-waste in Sweden
Sweden leads Europe in e-waste recycling
The British government has delayed the new law which makes producers of consumer electronics responsible for the recycling and disposal of goods.

The European Union directive, Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE), was to become UK law in August.

But ministers have put back its implementation because of "major difficulties" in meeting the deadline.

Electronics firm Hewlett Packard (HP) has welcomed the delay, saying similar problems existed all over Europe.

The WEEE directive is an important piece of legislation because it puts legal responsibility on electronics manufacturers to recycle products that are returned to them at the end of their life.

Germany has already delayed its decision to incorporate the directive into its law.

"On the face of it, WEEE looks quite simple," Dr Kirstie McIntyre, HP's WEEE UK programme manager, told the BBC News website.

"When you look at the detail, it is complex. It requires interaction with people we don't usually interact with."

The directive itself, which started life in 1992, has been separated into different pieces of legislation because it is so complicated.

'Right move'

HP said the decision by the UK government to delay the implementation was the "right move" because there were still a number of details that the government needed to resolve with the industry to make it work.

Campaign group, Waste Watch, also broadly welcomed the move.

"The implementation of EU directives should be viewed as part of the journey to sustainable development that needs to be created and spread by government," said Barbara Herridge, executive director of Waste Watch.

"If a delay in the implementation of the WEEE and [Restriction of Hazardous Substances] directives helps us to achieve that more holistic and integrated approach, then this is welcomed."

She added that businesses and technology producers needed to take responsibility for their actions, and to pay for any environmental damage that occurred.

A lot of communication and liaising needed to take place between local authorities, councils and the technology industry, which has not really happened before, said Dr McIntyre.

We are very pleased to see individual producer responsibility back on the agenda - it slipped off last year after the third consultation
Dr Kirstie McIntyre, Hewlett Packard
She said the government should to put in place mechanisms to help this process.

In the open letter from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the government said an advisory panel would be set up to "maintain strategic oversight and review of the WEEE implementation in its early years".

The taskforce will consist of various stakeholders from the government, industry and local authorities.

It will mean that individual producer responsibility (IPR) will be a key focus of the implementation.

"We are very pleased to see individual producer responsibility back on the agenda - it slipped off last year after the third consultation," said Dr McIntyre.

She added: "IPR is one of the core objectives of the directive and without it, the full scope of its aims and environmental benefits cannot be realised."

The DTI also said it would not make the cost of recycling equipment an extra price add-on to consumer electronics, called a "visible fee". Instead, the cost would be part of the overall price of the products.

"We don't think that visible fees are a good idea as they will look like an 'eco tax'," said Dr McIntyre. "Environmental benefits should not be associated with what would be seen as a 'bad thing'."

She added that administering the fee could well be expensive, too. Retailers would have to collect the fee and pass it back to producers or maker of the product.

There is some concern, however, that consumers will have to pay the extra eco costs.

Technology analysts Gartner predicted in a recent research report that the changes could add up to 33 ($60) onto the price of a computer in Europe.

Growing gadgetry

There is a general recognition globally that responsible environmental action on how to stem e-waste dumping and pollution needs to be taken.

Many companies already have programmes in place to deal with recycling and other environmental concerns.

HP cartridge recycling
Many companies are making recycling a priority
But some manufacturers may not, which means they will have to implement proper schemes.

The WEEE's aims are two-fold. The first is to prevent waste electronics ending up in landfill sites.

The second is to stop the electronics industry creating so much e-waste in the first instance.

The consumer electronics industry continues to grow, with gadgets like digital music players, mobiles and computers becoming increasingly popular.

Developments are also being made to design better technologies which are more energy efficient and which do not contain harmful substances.

Elements like chromium, lead, and cadmium - common in consumer electronics goods - will be prohibited in all products in the EU by 2006.

Sweden leads Europe in recycling programmes already in place. Every Swede gets through around 16kg of electrical goods every year, but more than half of this is recycled.

Gadget growth fuels eco concerns
20 Jan 05 |  Technology
Sweden heads e-waste recycling
08 Jun 04 |  Technology
Facing an e-waste mountain
28 Dec 04 |  Magazine
EU's new recycling laws looming
26 May 04 |  Northern Ireland
How to make computers greener
08 Mar 04 |  Technology

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