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EU inches toward PC recycling levy

WEEE wends way

Europe this week moved one step closer to forcing computer manufacturers to pay to recycle products.

The Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive aims to tackle the amount of waste dumped into the environment by consumers.

On Tuesday the directive passed its first reading in the European Parliament.

Amendments to the directive include: penalties for households that do not separated electric waste from general household rubbish, and the disposal of products in existence before the directive to be paid for by all producers in proportion to their share of the market.

In addition, the European Parliament wants a collection system of WEEE to be in place within 30 months of the directive coming into force. The European Commission had previously set the deadline at five years.

One measure in the directive requires manufacturers of electric and electronic goods to pay to recycle products. This covers everything from hairdryers to computers.

The directive now has to continue through the bureaucratic process of Europe. This includes going to the Council of Ministers and back to Parliament again. In all, it could be about another 18 months before the directive becomes law.

Around six million tons of electronic waste was generated in 1998. And a large chunk of this came from computers - it is estimated that between 2000 and 2005 a third of a billion computers will become obsolete. Only around six per cent of obsolete computers were recycled in 1998.

But there is still a lot of opposition to the directive in the industry. Manufacturers don't want to pay to recycle their own or others' products, and it is still not clear where distributors or resellers stand. Meanwhile, companies from outside the EU are upset at having to follow the legislation if they import into Europe.

The finer points of the directive are still hazy, such as what percentage of electrical waste will have to be recycled, and how much responsibility will fall on manufacturers, according to Jon Godfrey, business development manager at Technical Asset Management, the Welwyn Garden City-based IT recycling company.

But Godfrey warns that manufacturers need to start preparing for the legislation as soon as possible. "The changes that producers will have to go through will be so fundamental. If they are not looking into it now they're going to have big problems," he warned. ®

Related Link

European Parliament report

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