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Comment: UK WEEE implementation is a disgrace

Sometimes the Government deserves all the criticism it gets, and sometimes it doesn't get the praise it deserves.

But this is a week when a big, huge pile of annoyance needs to be passed the Government's way.

Last week, we reported that the Government was delaying the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive implementation again until June 2006.

It was only in March this year that the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) announced that the implementation of the directive would be delayed until January 2006. It should of course have become part of our everyday life from last week, August 13.

And as we show this week, the DTI has managed to frustrate the European Commission (EC) by not even having the decency to formally notify them that it would be delaying the directive in this country. Although the threat of court action offered by the EC is probably hollow because the UK will have implemented the WEEE directive by the time they get round to doing anything anyway.

While the compliance schemes, local authorities, producers and retailers will all be happy with the delay as it allows the UK to get implementation right, there should be some anger that it has come to this.

The WEEE Directive first came into law in February 2003, but had been discussed for several years before this date. By 2002, the Government could quite easily have had an idea of what it would contain.

So why has it taken three years to not be even close to implementing the directive? How come countries such as Germany and Ireland have gone ahead despite the difficulties?

Maybe it is because often in this country, we get everybody involved, talk about it for ages, look at all of the finer points, come up with a plan, and then dismantle it all and start all over again. Just think about what happened with the National Clearing House for an example.

This idea has been completely watered down to a plan where Civic Amenity (CA) sites and stores offering take-back schemes - all with the help of compliance schemes - will deal with WEEE.

But is the network of CA sites ready or even adequate? Will members of the public even bother taking their old TVs back to stores (trials so far haven't looked too good)? And nobody seems to have an answer to small WEEE items such as electric toothbrushes and handheld radios, so what about them?

The DTI seems to have been ambivalent about implementing the WEEE directive and it has to show leadership over the next 10 months before the new deadline. Otherwise, I fear, the directive will be implemented and yet members of the public won't bother to drive to their local CA site (if they even have one) and plenty of old video recorders, washing machines and televisions will be left on the street for collection by their local authority. Just like many people do now.

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