Just a few days in and 2007 is already shaping up to be the year when the principle of "polluter pays" finally becomes a reality for many UK manufacturers.
Alongside the obligatory fireworks and never-to-be-kept resolutions this New Year saw the launch of two new regulations that will force manufacturers of both electrical equipment and vehicles to pay for the safe disposal of their products.
The Waste Electrical and Electronic (WEEE) directive finally made it onto the statute book yesterday, ensuring that free take back services will have to be offered to all purchasers of electrical products such as computers, printers, TVs and white goods by July this year.
It was transposed into law a day after the End of Life Vehicles directive also came into effect, which applies the same principle of producer responsibility to the car industry, forcing manufacturers to pick up the cost of scrapping old bangers.
Under the new law, car firms have had to sign agreements with two service providers, Autogreen and Cartakeback, which have set up a network of authorised disposal facilities designed to meet approved environmental standards.
Advocates of the legislation claim that with it typically costing drivers up to £50 to have their car scrapped a free service should help reduce the number of vehicles dumped illegally. Drivers could even be offered a fee in exchange for taking their car to an approved facility while those who live more than 30 miles from the nearest disposal site will be eligible for free collection of the vehicle.
Science and Innovation Minister, Malcolm Wicks welcomed the move claiming that it offered an increased incentive for cars to be disposed of responsibly. "As 2007 gets underway, it is the perfect time to look at ways we can all do our bit to help the environment," he added. "There is already an 85% target in place to recover scrap cars and the free take back will help us achieve it."
Some car manufacturers had lobbied against the new legislation claiming that with 2 million vehicles disposed of each year the law would impose an unbearable financial burden on them. But Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, welcomed the move claiming it was "a further example of the industry taking professional responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of our products”.
It is also hoped that passing the cost of scrapping both cars and electrical equipment onto manufacturers will provide an incentive for both sectors to invest more in designing products that are easier to recycle and dispose of. (The DTI has also pledged to support firms working in this area and last month announced £278,000 of R&D funding through its Technology Programme for bio-plastic developer NetComposites - a company working on developing car doors and boat hulls using biodegradable plastics made from plant products.)
The new laws are likely to lead to small price rises in both the car and electronics sectors, but are still expected to be broadly welcomed the business community as they remove the long-standing cost and hassle of having to dispose of hazardous products.
However, the legislation also signals that the government is finally getting serious about producer responsibility, and manufacturers and retailers in other sectors can expect to see similar legislation impacting their products in the not too distant future.
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