EU gets going on recycling laws

New European Union recycling regulations are here, bringing changes to the way we dispose of our old PCs and peripherals. Here’s what the WEEE Directive means for you.

Britain has an electrical junk problem. Two millions tons of the stuff are generated in this country every year, and consumer electronics and IT products are among the leading contributors to the pile.

Many of these products contain hazardous materials, such as cadmium, that require specialist treatment. Something needs to be done — and will be, on July 1.

That’s when the WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) Directive goes live. It’s hoped that WEEE, a set of regulations with the primary goal of reducing the volume of monitors and motherboards sent to our landfills, will encourage the re-use of old components and more responsible waste disposal.

“Of electrical waste that was taken to the tip previously, only a small percentage was recycled,” says Clare Snow, director of Icer (the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling). “Some was re-used if spotted before it was covered, but too much went into landfill. WEEE should change that.

“Before, people were turned away if they wanted to recycle, but now they have somewhere to go. And they can still put it in the wheelie bin.” Under the new regulations, responsibility for financing electrical waste passes to those that produce it. Retailers have an obligation to take back old equipment when customers buy something new.

In essence, the companies that profit from selling future electrical waste will pay for its disposal. They will no longer rely on local authorities and taxpayers. Business wins But will companies take notice? Kirstie McIntyre, a representative of HP, says the firm has started acting already. “We’ve joined a PCS [producer compliance scheme] and we talk about numbers and how many tons of WEEE HP produces. We provide sales data to the Environment Agency and it works out our market share and how much waste we’re responsible for,” she explains.

Manufacturers, system builders and even firms that simply rebadge other makers’ computers must sign up to one of 37 PCSes once the regulations come into force next month. At the end of each quarter, the PCSes and Environment Agency will divide the total cost of disposal among vendors on the basis of their market share.

Retailers must either contribute to a scheme aimed at funding waste disposal sites or offer an instore take-back service. For large operators on the outskirts of town, instore take-back makes sense. But for many vendors, it simply isn’t practical.

“We’ve joined a distributor take-back scheme run by Valpak [a compliance and recycling specialist;] because we won’t be offering instore takeback,” said Mick Thomas, WEEE expert at Evesham. “We courier most of our PCs out and it would be too expensive to courier them back.”

Much will depend on where you buy your PC but, in general, you should continue to go to the tip or any of the ‘designated collection facilities’ listed here. Very few online retailers are offering to collect old systems when they deliver new hardware.

“Online customers will be offered a similar service to anyone buying in store,” said PC World public affairs manager Victoria Patterson.

“Someone buying online from Currys could take their old computer back to one of our stores.” Even if you buy from a store that offers an instore take-back scheme, there’s nothing to stop you visiting the tip if this is more convenient.

An alternative is offered by Dell, which offers a similar service to home PC users as it does to business customers. The firm will collect your old PC directly from your doorstep.

“Dell will cover the cost of home pickup, shipping to the recycling center and recycling of old equipment,” a spokesperson told PC Advisor. “The equipment will not be collected at the same time that we deliver the new hardware, because consumers need time to transfer data. Customers can log their collection request at any time after their new product has been delivered.”