BusinessGreen offers its fool-proof guide on how to comply with the new eWaste law
After two years of procrastination and delays the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive finally comes into full effect this weekend, bringing with it a raft of new legal requirements for IT producers and, to a lesser extent, their business customers.
The majority of the new legislation adheres to the polluter pays principle and focuses upon IT manufacturers, importers and resellers. As such they will be obliged to sign up with government-approved waste handling firms that can dispose of or recycle electrical equipment in an environmentally responsible fashion; provide some form of free take back for both business and domestic customers so that they can easily return their equipment at end of life; and pick up the bill for these new services.
Over time it is hoped that the legislation will not just limit the amount of hazardous waste ending up in landfill both here and in the developing world, but with the cost of disposal finally hitting manufacturers' bottom lines it should also incentivise them to develop more environmentally-friendly kit that is easier to dispose.
However, while the bulk of the regulatory burden falls upon producers, they are not the only ones affected by the new law. Retailers, distributors, local authorities, waste disposal providers and all businesses and non-household users of electrical and electronic equipment also face new compliance obligations – that means every business in the country is affected.
Despite the law's long gestation this is likely to come as a surprise to many. A survey last year of around 200 managers from law firm Eversheds found that nearly three quarters had no idea of what their WEEE obligations are or felt they needed more information to comply. The government has since attempted to publicise the new law, but with much of its focus on ensuring producers comply anecdotal evidence suggests general awareness of the legislation remains low. As a result many firms could this week find themselves in breach of the regulations – and under threat of sizable fines.
Faced with this backdrop the question for many firms is how do you comply with the WEEE directive? To help answer the question BusinessGreen delivers its step-by-step guide:
1. Work out which products are classified as WEEE. This is easier said than done. The regulations apply to electrical equipment "which is dependent on electric current or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly" and is "designed for use with a voltage rating not exceeding 1000 volt for alternating current and 1,500 volt for direct current".
This means that all IT equipment, mobile equipment, appliances and tools, white goods, and lighting, though not filament lamps, are included under the directive.
However, it does not mean all electrical equipment is included and there are important exemptions. Notably for commercial properties, equipment that is a "large scale industrial tool" or subject to “fixed installation" is exempt, though unfortunately the definitions for these terms are in legalese.
Fixed installation, for example, is defined as "a combination of several equipment, systems, finished products and/or components assembled and/or erected by an assembler/installer at a given place to operate together in an expected environment to perform a specific task, but not intended to be placed on the market as a single functional or commercial unit".
Jane Southworth of Eversheds translates this as meaning anything that is "part of a building", meaning electrical systems such as industrial equipment, heating, lifts and, significantly for datacentre managers, air conditioning, are all exempt from WEEE. However, there is some contention over exactly what qualifies so if you are in any doubt about whether equipment is exempt you should check with your legal team or DEFRA.
2. Separate your WEEE from other waste. Once you’ve worked out what constitutes WEEE that you must store it separately from all other waste to avoid the risk of it ending up with conventional waste disposal firms.
3. Contact your supplier. Your supplier is legally obliged under the WEEE directive to offer a free take back service, either themselves like many of the larger manufacturers, or through a waste management partner. They should be able to tell you the arrangements for collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of the kit.
4. Keep the paper work. Finally, you also need to "obtain and keep proof that your WEEE was given to a waste management company, and was treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound way". Failure to keep hold of this paper work could lead to fines as you would be unable to prove that you haven’t breached the WEEE directive.
Simple? Sadly, it's not quite that easy. While most firms will have few problems getting their manufacturers to pick up their end of life IT kit, there are a few exemptions to the law where the responsibility for disposal falls entirely on the business user. As a result there are a few extra steps you have to take to ensure full compliance with the new legislation.
Check when you bought the kit. Free take back is only available if the equipment was sold to you after 13th August 2005 - when the WEEE directive should have been introduced. If you bought it after this date it constitutes "new WEEE" and the original supplier has to offer free take back or negotiate with you for you to dispose of it.
Also, if the kit was bought prior to August 2005, but is being replaced by like-for-like equivalent equipment, in which case it is "historic WEEE" and your new supplier delivering the new kit has an obligation to take away the old equivalent equipment.
However, this of course creates problems for any firm consolidating their EEE - a not uncommon occurrence in an era of server consolidation and office down sizing. For example, a firm with 100 desktop computers bought in 2004 that has halved the size of its office and now wants to get rid of the old PCs and buy in 50 new desktops will can arrange with its new supplier to take away 50 of the old PCs for free, but will have to separately arrange and pay for the disposal of the remaining 50 PCs.
This means that alongside the free vendor take back schemes most firms are either going to have to negotiate with their suppliers to pay for entry to their disposal schemes or enter into separate relationships with independent authorised waste disposal firms to get rid of this excess kit legally.
Check your contract. The problem posed by "historic WEEE" will diminish as products bought prior to August 2005 reach end of life. However, there is also a clause in the legislation that means that the supplier can agree with the customer that they will pick up the WEEE responsibilities. It is expected that some smaller suppliers in particular will try and offer customers lower prices for new kit in return for them agreeing in the contract to take on the accompanying WEEE obligations when it comes to product disposal. As a result legal experts are warning that IT chiefs should check new contracts very closely to ensure they are not unwittingly accepting WEEE liability they don’t want.
Hope your supplier hasn't gone bankrupt. The final circumstance in which the business customer has to pick up the bill for WEEE disposal is if they can not locate the supplier take back scheme for kit bought after August 2005 – which basically means they have gone bust.
So there you have it. The directive may have taken a long time to come into effect and prove more complex than many businesses believed, but now it is here there are no longer any excuses and from now on all businesses will have to embrace green disposal of their IT kit for legal as well as environmental reasons.
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