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Feature: The waiting game

It is now well over a month since the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive was supposed to be transposed into UK law. The Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) schedule gave January 2005 as the month for the implementation, but this deadline has come and gone with no legislation in sight.

According to the DTI's original schedule, industry will be required to comply with the new WEEE legislation from August 2005. Although delays are expected, in theory this could mean that companies are obligated from this date.

Worryingly, however, a small survey Valpak carried out with retailers revealed that 60% had not even heard of the WEEE Directive, let alone prepared for its consequences.

The directive is designed to reduce the environmental impact of over one million tonnes of electrical waste that the UK produces every year and is estimated to affect up to 75,000 retailers in the UK and 25,000 producers. Under the legislation, importers of electrical goods are also classified as producers and as such will have an obligation. Any retailer that sells own-brand goods will attract both a producer and a retailer obligation for those items. Currently there are no plans to introduce de minimis levels, which means that anyone, from small independent businesses to major multinationals, will have a legal obligation to comply with the legislation.

Broadly speaking, retailers will be responsible for ensuring that consumers can return waste electrical and electronic goods to a recycling facility or in-store. They can either do this themselves, or join a compliance scheme to handle obligations on their behalf. There will also be a requirement to publicise the location of WEEE collection points, in-store or otherwise. The British Retail Consortium has estimated that the cost of this to UK retailers may be up to £10m a year.

Producers will be responsible for setting up and operating a national clearing house, which will ensure the collection, transport and reprocessing of this WEEE once it has been collected from the consumer. Producers can also meet this obligation through a compliance scheme.

Due to the incredibly complex nature of the legislation, it is taking longer than originally anticipated to get it right. The DTI is talking extensively with industry, and while this means that there are delays which cause understandable frustration to companies wanting to prepare for the legislation, it also indicates that the government is keen to get it right first time.

While nobody wants to face unnecessary delays, industry does not want to be lumbered with unworkable or costly legislation because the time was not taken to get it right.

The current timetable makes it an offence for businesses to ignore their obligations after August 2005, which leaves very little time for the UK to put a suitable structure in place.

Valpak advocates putting this timetable back, to allow industry time to assimilate the points of the legislation once it is set, and to ensure that compliance is achieved in the most efficient and economic way possible.

It is difficult to estimate how long it will take to put the legislation into practice once it is finalised, because at the moment it is not known exactly what will be required. However, as a guide, one service provider has estimated that it would take a minimum of three months before a national clearing house could realistically be set up.

The new legis

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