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Making WEEE work- the manufacturer's perspective

Ever since the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) issued its second consultation paper on the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive in November, the key players have been putting forward their ideas on how the directive should work. But as time ticks on, and several issues remain unclear, industry anxiety is on the increase. The viability of the introduction of visible fees and the launch of a national clearing house are two of the issues currently being investigated by technology giant Hewlett Packard (HP).

One of the key elements of the directive that is still unresolved is the contentious issue of visible fees. The DTI has yet to decide whether to allow producers to introduce a visible fee at the point of sale to cover the costs of recovering historic WEEE put on the market before August 2005. Reports abound that the majority of producers favour visible fees, while retailers are said to be taking the opposite stance. HP, which supplies technology solutions to more than 1 billion customers in 162 countries, disagrees with the whole concept.

In its current format the directive says that producers are allowed to show the real cost of recycling to consumers through visible fees, explained HP WEEE programme manager Dr Kirstie McIntyre, but we are worried that insufficient consideration has been given to this process.

Part of the reason for HPs negative stance on the visible fees issue is based on the way that they have been executed in The Netherlands and Belgium. Both countries have introduced visible fees ahead of the full legislation, but this example has so far done little to convince McIntyre of their suitability for the UK.

When buying a digital camera in Belgium the consumer sees both the purchase price and an additional figure (the visible recycling fee), which will be added to the total at the till, explained McIntyre.

In Belgium this entire process is managed by an organisation called Recupel. Recupel sets the recycling fee, organises the collection of the fee and handles the recycling contracts. This is not a competitive solution and, although it works in favour of large recycling contractors, it certainly does not encourage new processes.

When the Belgian system was first instigated an HP digital camera costing E399 (£266) would have been put on sale with an additional E6 visible fee cost.

McIntyre says that the problems associated with this were manifold. Consumers quite understandably questioned the extra cost leaving retailers exasperated at the extra time and work involved in selling a previously simple product. This situation became so unworkable from the retailers perspective that they asked for compensation from the manufacturers for lost sales time. Surely that in itself shows how unworkable this system is.

But that is not the only beef that HP has with the visible fee system.

According to McIntyre one of the main problems is that the Belgian and Dutch examples have proved a huge disincentive to recycling. Setting the recycling fee at E6 for a digital camera was ridiculous. This meant that for every tonne of digital cameras, no less than E40,000 was being realised. The actual cost to recycle this amount of product would more realistically be around E500800. Despite asking on numerous occasions, we do not know what Recupel has done with the excess money that it made from these visible fees. Needless to say, the visible fees have since been adjusted to a more realistic figure but this will do nothing to further the cause of recycling with those consumers that paid those initial inflated costs.

Visible fees cannot be introduced in this way in the UK because they are open to abuse, especially when controlled by one large organisation.

Another of HPs fears is that visible fees are based on assumption. We do not know how much product will come back. Products arent bought and discarded on a straight one-to-one ratio. Visible fees need to take into account future recycling costs and the f

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