Government Scraps IT Recycling ‘Quango’

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB) is set to go the same way as Becta, after the government announced plans to disband it

Another IT organisation has fallen foul of the government’s ongoing quango purge.

Business secretary Vince Cable announced this week that the industry and government body charged with overseeing the introduction of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive has been disbanded.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body (WAB) will be shut in the next year according to Cable who said the move was part of the coalition government’s ongoing strategy to cut back on quangos and create a leaner public sector.

“We are absolutely committed to reducing the number and cost of quangos that we no longer need. I have already said that I want to reduce the number of these bodies by a third and we’ve achieved a lot in a short space of time. This is the latest phase of that work,” said Cable.

BECTA Axed

In May,  Becta – the government agency promoting the use of technology in education – confirmed it would be forced to close as part of new government spending cuts. The government claimed the closure of Becta and other Department for Education quangos would save £80 million.

The government has stated that the latest cuts bring the total number of BIS quangos to be abolished, merged or receive no further funding from the Department to 17. Another body which has implications for IT is also being axed – the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property policy (SABIP) – the government confirmed.

Implications for WEEE directive

WAB was established in 2007 and included several representatives from the IT industry including Kirstie McIntyre, environmental takeback compliance manager at HP and Joy Boyce, head of corporate environmental affairs at Fujitsu Services.

HP was approached for comment on what the disbanding of WAB would mean for its involvement in the continued implementation of WEEE in the UK, but did not reply in time for this article.

Must Read: Tony Roberts On How To Solve The E-Waste Issue
Must Read: Tony Roberts On How To Solve The E-Waste Issue

Tony Roberts, chief executive of IT refurbishment charity Computer Aid international said his organisation was strongly opposed to the decision to axe WAB.  “The new government says it wants to bring the responsibilities of the WEEE Advisory Board back into government ‘where there is more accountability’. However the government agencies that these responsibilites might be ‘in-sourced’ to are themselves suffering cuts of their own,” he said.

Roberts said both the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Environment Agency were also being hit by spending cuts and would struggle to cope with additional workload from the WAB.  “DEFRA must make £162m in ‘savings’ which it says will necessitate cuts across the board that cannot be achieved simply by limiting new recruitment, “ he said. “The Environment Agency is DEFRA’s watchdog body and has been doing the job of overseeing and policing the implementation of the WEEE Directive. Now the EA is certain to have to cut its staff, and reduce its ability to effectively police and prosecute.”

Defra And EA Squeezed

Computer Aid has hit out at the funding giving to the Environment Agency in the past as the charity believes more resources should be given to help prevent the illegal export of waste IT and other electrical equipment to the developing world. But more recently the charity believes that some real progress has been made – progressed jeopardised by the latest cuts.  “Cutting back on the policing of environmental criminals, just as real headway was being made, is likely to send a green light to the eWaste cowboys,” said Roberts

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.

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