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Feature: Retailers face stark choices on WEEE

High street electrical retailers breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Government confirmed a delay in implementing new regulations on waste electronics last month. In a letter to stakeholders, Chris Tollady of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said the European Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive would be transposed into UK law this summer but that take-back obligations for retailers and distributors would not commence until January 26 2006.

Dixons Group was one of the first to respond. Europe’s biggest electrical retailer – which operates as Dixons, Currys, PC World and The Link in the UK – welcomed the announcement as “what broadly seems to be a sensible and practical response to the transposition of a challenging Directive”. But environment manager Vivien Williams warned: “We remain concerned that January – one of the busiest periods of the year for electrical retailers – has been chosen as the new start date. We will continue to press the Government to look at moving the commencement date to April 2006.”

In announcing the delay, the DTI admitted it had encountered “major practical difficulties” in meeting the WEEE Directive’s original legal deadline, and Germany’s decision to delay implementation until 2006 is likely to be followed by other EU countries.

Funding

The proposal on a clearing house or other system to organise WEEE obligations is still to be defined, but the DTI hopes that talks with the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents retailers in the UK, on funding a retail compliance scheme, including upgrades to civic amenity sites for the separate collection of WEEE-affected products, will be completed this month. Uncertainty still surrounds how this might work and retailers have been given until the end of May to come up with details of a viable scheme which would then be subject to formal approval by the Government.

“It’s a complete mess,” warns Nigel Montgomery, senior researcher for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at analyst AMR Research. “The way it currently stands, you can be liable as producer, distributor or retailer. But if retailers receive the goods from outside the EU and then both distribute to other retailers and through their own outlets, they could be responsible across all three channels. It will be a compliance nightmare for them.”

The BRC has warned that current proposals could cost as much as £750 million. It supports retailers such as Dixons Group which says that, in the past year, it has taken back 500,000 large domestic appliances, 250,000 telephones and 150,000 inkjet cartridges. The Group has a number of national partnership arrangements, including a refurbishment and recycling contract with charity trust Create. Williams argues that the company is making significant progress in this area.

“The Dixons Group runs efficient take-back services for many products, and we have added our experience on the economics and logistics of these schemes to the debate,” she says. “We believe good progress has been made on discussions concerning a retail compliance scheme.”

A BRC spokesman told MRW: “We’re glad that imple- mentation has been delayed, there is no way that the UK is ready to start applying WEEE from August. We are still very concerned about the proposed January date – it is such a busy

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