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Attempting to unravel the effects of WEEE delay

The dates are set but will the process that led to the WEEE Directive leave an unwanted legacy? Rebecca Allmark reports on new research that is attempting to unravel the effects of the delay. Those working in the electrical and electronic equipment sector will be no strangers to having their opinions canvassed. The interminable delay surrounding the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive has been well and truly filled with consultations. Consultations from government to establish the finer points of implementation, consultations among trade associations to lobby government everyone has wanted to make full use of the delay to get their message over about how the legislation does or doesnt suit them. But what of the delay itself? What has been the real impact on the electronics industry are they any wiser or has the endless waiting just left a feeling of bitterness? The answers will soon be on hand as researchers at Cardiff University have recently conducted one of the first UK wide surveys to assess the current impacts of recently implemented and delayed EU environmental legislation on businesses working in the electrical and electronic equipment supply chain. The Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS) at Cardiff University sets out to understand and promote the issues of sustainability, accountability and social responsibility through research into key business relationships. BRASS investigates a range of issues from eco-footprinting, environmental risk management, legal requirements and business ethics. Electronics has been on the agenda for the past five years with BRASS looking at take back and producer responsibility from a global perspective, examining practices in the US, Far East and Europe. The survey was sent out to 6,500 manufacturers and other related industrial sectors and BRASS received 250 responses. This may not seem like much but it does give us a good taster of what is going on in the industry, says BRASS research manager Frances Hines. We also carried out between 30-35 key stakeholder interviews with organisations such as the Environment Agency and trade associations to get their perspective. Hines and her team embarked on this piece of UK based research to establish if there were reasons other than the slowness of the Department of Trade and Industry in holding up the directive. It also fits into wider research BRASS is carrying out into electronics. According to Hines, there was a lot of consistency in the results with some very frank comments. It was nice to see that most companies agreed with the principals of the directive in terms of the environmental benefits it will bring, its just the process thats frustrating, says Hines. However, it can be quite depressing reading through some of the comments. There was so much good will towards the government when they embarked on this but companies are now so cynical and there is certainly a lack of trust. There were a number of comments like jobs for the boys and that people dont think the government knows what it is doing. With a range of responses from large companies, SMEs and a reasonable spread against the different product groups, the results showed the frustration that the delay has caused and also, says Hines, frustration at the mess of consultation and implementation and at the change over of staff at the DTI. There is still a lot of confusion, continues Hines. A number of the responses showed that people were still not clear about what the directive involves. The word shambolic was used quite regularly. In addition, Hines says that problems did not originate solely from the government but also from industry. Big retailers and manufacturers are not used to working with local authorities, she says. Bringing stakeholders together who are not used to having this kind of relationship meant that it was never going to be an easy ride. Also, at some level, there is distrust between them. One group of stakeholders thinks that the other is g

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