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Electronics Production | December 22, 2006

Is WEEE regulation a waste of time?

Research points to low levels of concern over obligations or compliance and guaranteed consumer price rises.

1 January 2007 sees the European-wide WEEE Directive (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) regulations enter into force. But research from international law firm Eversheds reveals that despite the rapidly approaching deadline, UK companies are far from embracing their obligation to re-cycle electronic waste. Key findings include: After years of consultation, half of manufacturers and retailers still are unclear over their obligations or need more information. Almost three quarters of manufacturers and retailers predict price rises for UK consumers. Over half of the businesses questioned had yet put a scheme in place to dispose of electrical waste. Three quarter of IT professionals expect costs to their businesses will increase. The study revealed that many UK businesses are simply not yet in a position to comply: 42 per cent of manufacturers and retailers and 73 per cent of in-house IT professionals still either have no idea what their obligations are, or need more information than is being provided at present. (Twenty-two per cent had no idea at all what the WEEE Directive was and 60 per cent believed that the date for compliance had already passed). And the research confirmed disappointing news for UK consumers: 70 per cent of manufactures and retailers of electronic goods in the UK predict that the WEEE Directive will result in the cost of electronic goods rising, although there was little agreement on how big the price hike is likely to be. While 100 per cent of large retailers and manufacturers questioned had heard of the WEEE Directive, only 70 per cent of smaller operations had. Worryingly, half of all those questioned had yet to make contact with a recycler to agree a mechanic or scheme for disposal of their waste electrical products. There was also lack of concern over marking products with the wheelie bin symbol: over a third (37 per cent) of manufacturers and retailers had still to decide whether or not they were going to use it. The study also uncovered a view that the current information being supplied on retail compliance was insufficient. Sixty per cent of manufacturers and retailers expressed worry over the lack of detail in guidance information. Manufacturers and retailers The research indicated that only 58 per cent of manufacturers and retailers actually understand their obligations under the Directive, with 32.9 per cent planning to join a compliance scheme (39 per cent will comply on their own). A third of the retailers questioned who were aware of WEEE plan to offer an in-store return service to customers. IT professionals Only 27 per cent of IT professionals questioned as part of the research confessed to fully understanding their obligations under the WEEE directive. However, 63 per cent of them plan on complying without outsourcing. Seventy-five per cent of them believe that costs to their businesses will increase as a result of WEEE and 55 per cent believe that they will be paying higher prices in future from suppliers. Jane Southworth, IT law partner at Eversheds said: "No doubt about it, there is confusion in the minds of companies in the UK over their obligations with the WEEE Directive. The date for this regulation coming into force has changed so many times over the last few years, and we believe that many companies are now beginning to suffer from WEEE-fatigue, which has led to companies losing track of what are fundamentally very important issues for the environment. "The results of the research also cast a degree of doubt over just how effective the Directive will be in the UK. The current lack of consequences for non-compliance may deny it the teeth it needs to force companies to sit up and listen to waste management issues. "Our research seems to suggest that UK companies, whilst having a fairly good level of awareness, have little idea as to their obligations, and even less will to comply with them. But with each person in the UK creating 3.3 tonnes of electrical waste over their lifetime, it's essential that the Directive is a success."
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