In all the recent upsurge of interest in green computing we seem to have slightly forgotten one of the most direct environmental impacts of IT: the handling and disposal of our electronic waste products.
That’s probably because of the huge paper tiger of the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive. We say paper tiger, as despite a lot of awareness raising in the last three years about the upcoming responsibility for end of life computers and the like, there is as yet no actual legal obligations on suppliers or users to do anything. This is ultimately because, for various Whitehall reasons, the UK has lagged our European trading partners in implementing the thing.
But WEEE hasn’t gone away, nor has its cousin the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive, which went live in July here as well as Europe. And at least some organisations have already had to face up to the implications.
Take business and industrial printer supplier Zebra Technologies, which supplies bar coding and other special printers to clients like Tesco, DHL and TNT. Its commitment to meeting both standards isn’t going to be every company’s issue by a long chalk - but it’s still interesting to see how the organisation has had to change to meet this green challenge.
Zebra has had to retool its old style printers and new, compliant ones across its entire range, from high performance industrial label printers to compact and lightweight portable printers and on-demand plastic card printers. Zebra has sold over five million products, incidentally.
“WEEE and RoHS have made a major impact on us,” notes Richard Hughes-Rowland, Zebra’s European product manager. Zebra decided to get WEEE compliant despite it not being a UK standard yet, which meant looking at each variant of its main 30 product lines “down to the single printer board level”. “This has been a significant undertaking for us, and all in all will cost us let’s say a seven figure amount of engineering effort.”
Has this work been welcomed by users yet? “There is some awareness certainly out there that there are these directives and customers are just now starting to want to take products that meet them and so don’t leave them with any legal obligations,” he confirms.
Expect much more such awareness when we finally do get WEEE.
See here for a full update on Zebra’s compliance work to get a feel for how much has been involved.
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