US Must Learn From EU On WEEE

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The US Congress has passed an e-waste bill through Congress this week, but it must not repeat the mistakes of the EU, say experts

Both electronics manufacturers and European industry observers have given the first stage of the pending US e-waste bill a cautious welcome.

On Wednesday this week, US lawmakers in Congress passed e-waste legislation to tackle electrical equipment waste and recycling.

The US legislation is much like the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive passed by the European Union (EU) almost two years ago.

If passed, it will provide guidelines and funding for training, research and recycling schemes for electrical manufacturers, retailers and consumers to recycle their old mobile phones, televisions, computers and other electronic devices.

But Rick Goss of the Information Technology Industry Council, a US trade group representing several electronics producers, stated that the bill will load extra costs on manufacturers.

He warned many companies would have to either cut jobs or increase prices to consumers in order to comply. While those manufacturers that don’t sell directly to consumers will have to contract out collection and disposal services.

If the EU regulations provide a template for what impact the US’ e-waste bill could have on its IT industry, it’s likely that a new ecosystem of e-waste suppliers will emerge to meet demand.

For example, Computacenter recently announced its specialist IT disposals division is providing asset recycling and redeployment services for Marks & Spencer (M&S).

As part of an extension of the managed IT services agreement between the two, signed at the beginning of 2009, the cost-neutral service has already helped M&S to meet both WEEE requirements and its own, environmental Plan A objectives by sending zero IT waste from head office to landfill in last year.

David Tebbutt, programme director at Freeform Dynamics told eWeek Europe that the US should make sure it doesn’t fall into the trap that the EU regulations have.

“The WEEE directive is very differently applied across the EU, where there are huge inconsistencies in its applications between EU states,” he said.

“This type of legislation is great in principle, but it really depends on how much leeway the final Bills allow. The inconsistency occurs when there is the potential for the regulations to be open to interpretation.”