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UK Concerned Over EC IT Waste Laws

The British government is concerned that updates to the tech recycling and toxicity legislation might be hard on businesses

The UK government has said that proposed changes to European waste IT legislation could present “significant challenges” to businesses and is seeking feedback from industry ahead of negotiations in Brussels.

In a statement released late last week, the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) announced that it has published a consultation document that addresses proposed changes to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and the Restriction on the use of certain Hazardous Substances (ROHS) directives.

Specifically, BERR said it is concerned that moves to increase the amount of tech waste that is collected and recycled under WEEE, as well as plans to tighten up the substances controlled or banned under ROHS, could be difficult for UK companies to comply with.

“The UK welcomes the Commission’s intention to strengthen the Directives, with further steps to limit the environmental impact of waste equipment. However, we are concerned that the WEEE proposals in particular do present some significant challenges for British businesses,” said a BERR spokesperson.

The consultation paper is a chance for those UK tech companies and other stake-holders who could be hit by the changes to make their voices heard, according to BERR.

“Our consultation paper will give the electronics and ICT industries, the waste management sector, consumers and other interested parties the opportunity to inform the UK government’s understanding of the impact the changes will have, ahead of the formal negotiations in Brussels.”

Despite claims to be at the forefront of green and environmental thinking, the UK has run into trouble over WEEE in the past. The WEEE directive was adopted by the EC in 2003 but wasn’t actually enacted and enforced in UK law until mid 2007. EC authorities actually went as far as to issue a written warning to the UK government for dragging its heels over implementing the legislation.

The WEEE directive was developed to try and tackle the increasing amounts of technology-related junk  – not just from IT – that was entering the waste stream and often ending up in landfill. The directive forced producers – such as IT manufacturers and even importers – to take financial responsibility for the recycling and disposal of a proportion of waste tech dependent on their size and contribution.

The EC issued a statement last December announcing the proposed changes to WEEE and ROHS, claiming that both directives needed updating to help cut administration costs and also tighten up some flaws in the original legislation.

“The WEEE Directive came into force on 13 February 2003. In the first few years of the directive a number of technical, legal and administrative difficulties became apparent which resulted in unintended costs and burden on market actors and administrations,” the EC stated.

The EC claims that despite WEEE being in place for nearly five years in some member states, too much waste tech is still ending up in landfill and not being recycled. Also large amounts of waste IT is being shipped to developed countries – often illegally – where it is broken down in dangerous and environmentally damaging ways.

“Only approximately a third of waste electrical and electronic equipment (33 percent) is reported to be treated according to the legislation. The rest goes to landfills (13 percent) and potentially to sub-standard treatment inside or outside the EU (53 percent). Illegal trade to non-EU countries is still widespread,” the EC stated.

The ROHS directive is also under scrutiny which will be welcomed by some environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace. The green group recently criticised leading PC makers such as Dell, HP and Lenovo for reversing previous commitments to eliminate the use of certain toxic compounds by the end of this year.