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News analysis: Do the Government and industry's WEEE plans add up?

Last week the Government launched a consultation paper on the Environment Agency's (EA) proposed fees for policing and coordinating the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

Due to be made law in January 2006, the Directive aims to reduce the amount of WEEE by making manufacturers and retailers responsible for its disposal.

As well as predicting costs of £2.9 million per year for the EA to make sure those affected abide by the law, the document revealed in a little more detail what the legislation will look like when it is implemented.

As first announced in March, it looks like the UK's implementation of the Directive will follow a similar path to the Packaging Waste Regulations, with most producers registering through compliance schemes that in turn register with the EA.

This, however, doesn't explain how the WEEE will actually be collected.

The directive requires EU Member States to establish "an adequate network of collection points".

Its preferred way of doing this is by having in-store take-back, so that when people go to buy their wide-screen plasma TV, they drop off their dusty old analogue box.

Manufacturers, in turn, would fund the collection from stores and recycling costs.

However, while retailers like Comet do run take-back schemes, the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) has realised others may not wish to do this, or may not be able to for reasons such as storage space.

As a result it has approved a scheme by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) where shops that can't offer free in-store take-back pay a set fee that goes towards a separate collection network.

This network will be made up of local authorities' civic amenity (CA) sites, with retailers' money spent on upgrading sites to house WEEE banks, at a proposed cost of roughly £5,000 per site.

As the ones that would arrange and pay for WEEE to be collected for recycling, the manufacturers are also happy with using CA sites.

The Recycling Electrical Producers' Industry Consortium (REPIC), whose 45 members represent 80% of electrical and electronic sales in the UK each year, has announced its intentions to collect and also supply the WEEE containers.

REPIC chief executive Philip Morton said: "What is proposed now is a cut-down version of the National Clearing House. Both industry and Government agree that we should try to use the existing infrastructure."

However, Local Government Association senior policy officer for environment Alice Roberts said: "An adequate network is not going to be made from these [CA] sites. Adequate ought to mean there's an element of accessibility.

"However, CA sites can only be accessed by car, not all sites can be converted and some local authorities, such as Hackney, don't have any CA sites at all."

This begs the question of whether people would bother making a possibly very long journey to CA sites, especially for small WEEE like toothbrushes and hairdryers.

Morton admitted: "If it fits in the bin it will go in the bin."

This prediction has been borne out by work by the London Borough of Bexley, which has also provided a possible solution to making WEEE recycling accessible.

The council has been running its own WEEE recycling programme since October 2003 in par

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