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Green Zone:

WEEE Regulations: what you should know

Editor at Large Nigel Strickland gives practical guidance on the actions hirers must take to meet obligations under the WEEE Regulations, to recycle electrical and electronic equipment.

Following a European directive, important environmental legislation came onto the statute books in January 2007. The 2006 Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations oblige producers of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) to take financial responsibility for the treatment, collection and recycling of waste items produced since August 2005. Statistics show that around 2 million tonnes of such waste are produced annually in the UK, much of it being disposed of in landfill, and it is the fastest growing component of the total waste stream. The WEEE Directive aims to reduce this and encourage re-use, recovery and recycling initiatives.

However, one year on from the introduction of the WEEE regulations, a survey commissioned by the environmental guidance website, NetRegs, (www.netregs.gov.uk) has discovered that small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) across the UK are still unaware of them – meaning many might be neglecting their responsibilities and missing out on cost savings. The survey found that only 12% of SMEs could name the WEEE Regulations unprompted, and just 36% recognised them once they were named.

Procurement procedures

Richard Martin, NetRegs Programme Manager, commented “SMEs generate 60% of commercial waste in England and Wales, so it is critical that all users of electrical equipment understand what WEEE means for them. The good news is that WEEE legislation can help businesses dispose of their electrical waste products sustainably - in many cases at no cost. Where previously organisations may have had to pay for a skip, now they can contact the producer of electrical goods purchased since 2005 to dispose of the equipment. “We strongly recommend that SMEs incorporate WEEE into their procurement procedures so that, when buying equipment, they check that the producer is legally registered and already conforms.

“Many people wrongly believe that WEEE is only relevant to businesses in the electrical industry. However, if you use a computer, a photocopier, or have a microwave in your staff kitchen, you need to be aware of what WEEE means.” Schedule 1 of the WEEE Regulations classifies EEE into ten categories. Category 3 covers IT & Telecommunications equipment. The most environmentally friendly disposal method is to recycle it, and certain charities such as www.computeraid.org can to take your old EEE, upgrade it and find a new owner. However, if your Category 3 waste is not suitable for recycling, what are your options? The Regulations state that, when disposing of business WEEE, the responsibility either rests with the producer, or you, as the end user. If the equipment was sold to you after 13 August 2005, or you are replacing it with an equivalent product, or you rent or lease the EEE, then the responsibility and the cost of disposal lie with the business that sold it to you.

To clarify matters, from 1 April 2007 producers have had to label EEE with a symbol showing a solid bar under a crossed out ‘wheelie bin’, confirming the WEEE is non-historic and that the responsibility of disposal lies with them. So far so good, but if the WEEE being disposed of is not being replaced and it was produced before 13 August 2005, then it is your responsibility to arrange and pay for its transfer to an appropriately licensed facility. It must also be accompanied by a waste transfer note, or hazardous waste consignment note, in compliance with the Duty of Care regime in section 34 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Identifying responsibility for disposal

Hopefully you will not be binning IT kit every week, but it is likely that you will be disposing of old power tools and equipment (or WEEE Category 6 - Electrical & Electronic tools) more regularly. Here, the same process of identifying responsibility for disposal applies and the questions you need to ask are: Am I replacing items on a like-for-like basis, or was it bought after 13 August 13 2005? If the answer to either is yes, then you can request the original manufacturer, importer or re-brander (also referred to as the ‘producer’) to take back the redundant tools with no charge to your business. Equally, if you originally bought the EEE from a distributor, rather than a producer, then the distributor can take it back and transfer it to the operator of the producers' WEEE scheme.

Stringent obligations for hirers

However, the Regulations have created stringent obligations for hire companies if they become suppliers of EEE, as opposed to being consumers. First, any hire company that sells power tools to a DIY consumer (as opposed to a business or trade customer) has a legal duty to give these clients the opportunity to return, without charge, any WEEE they have on a like-for-like basis that fulfils the same purpose as new EEE supplied by the hire company. For instance, an old 13mm percussion drill can be returned when purchasing a new SDS drill, regardless of the brand or where the old one was originally bought. Retailers taking back WEEE must return it for recycling by contacting an appropriate producer compliance scheme, and delivering it to them for attention.

Alternatively, hire companies could join the Valpak (www.valpak.co.uk) Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS). This provides members with standardised forms explaining how consumers can dispose of their WEEE free of charge at collection facilities supported by the Scheme. Subscribers are also provided with information they are obliged to provide, detailing issues such as: the consumer’s role in assisting with the recovery of WEEE; the potential effect on human health and the environment caused by hazardous substances in EEE; the meaning of the crossed out wheelie bin symbol; and, importantly, details of local disposal and collection points. Distributors must record the presentation and provision of this information, and are obliged to keep these details for four years. DTS fees are based on a distributor’s turnover in the previous calendar year, with those selling up to £100,000 of EEE paying £400 and also gaining exemption from having to offer in-store take back until January 2010.

The Regulations also allow producers and business users to agree to ‘alternative arrangements’, whereby the business user absorbs some or all of the future costs of the end-of-life treatment of the EEE they buy. This comes down to a commercial decision, but could form part of the normal negotiation process for future supply contracts. If you are selling EEE to trade customers, you have no legal obligation to ‘take-back’ or be a DTS member, but it might make good business sense to provide a service whether or not your customer is buying replacement goods. It is also worth noting that any hire companies selling own-brand EEE automatically have their status changed, being classified as EEE producers.

The Environment Agency in England & Wales, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Environment & Heritage Service in Northern Ireland will enforce the Regulations so far as producers are concerned. The Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) is the enforcement body for distributor compliance, ensuring that all distributors (down to the smallest shopkeeper) are operate their own take-back arrangements, or Valpak members. Failure to comply will be an offence, with potential fines of £5,000 in a magistrate’s court and an unlimited amount in the Crown Court.

The take-up of the DTS scheme is gathering pace and all hire companies need to review their operations to determine their compliance and to ensure their suppliers are meeting their responsibilities. We are currently in a ‘honeymoon’ period, with the government agencies involved adopting a relaxed approach – but do not expect this scenario to prevail in the long term.

Launching a report on waste recently, Conservative leader David Cameron revealed that Archie Norman, the former Tory MP and ex-Asda Chairman who is now Chairman of HSS, has been asked to lead a steering group looking at ways of working with companies to bring about a "fundamental rethink" of tackling waste. Hopefully our industry will now have an effective voice in lobbying on this issue.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesMay 2008Green Zone › WEEE Regulations: what you should know

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