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WEEE Regulations now in force in UK

Manufacturers, importers and retailers of domestic appliances, IT equipment and gadgets face new legal duties to ensure the proper disposal of old products. Key parts of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations came into force yesterday.02 Jul 2007

The legislation, derived from a European Directive, was intended to boost recycling instead of adding to landfill. Last year two million tonnes of electrical waste was generated in the UK alone, enough to fill the new Wembley Stadium six times over, according to the new Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR). The DBERR has taken over the responsibilities of the former Department for Trade and Industry (DTI).

The Regulations came into effect in January and their provisions have been phased in. The first important phase was a requirement on every company that manufactures, imports or re-brands electrical and electronic equipment (collectively known as 'producers') to join an approved producer compliance scheme by 15th March. Distributors such as retailers wanting to join a Distributor Take-back Scheme should have done so by that date. As of yesterday, producers have to finance the costs associated with the treatment, recovery and disposal of WEEE.

The take-back duties also came into force on Sunday 1st July. Business and household consumers buying electrical and electronic products should be offered free take-back of old products.

Sellers of electrical and electronic equipment can offer in-store take-back of old equipment when consumers buy a replacement item. However, most retailers have opted to join a Distributor Take-Back scheme instead, paying money to support a network of 1,450 public collection facilities where consumers can return old goods.

All distributors must make information available to consumers on how they can dispose of WEEE, which will be done with posters and leaflets with purchases.

Putting the responsibility on the electrical industry is intended to make designers consider the eventual recycling of their products, to give the industry an incentive to provide consumers with more options for returning old products, to encourage the reuse of products and to create a valuable market in recycled materials.

In the six months since the laying of the Regulations, the Government has worked closely with industry to set up the various components of what it calls "a flexible and viable national electrical waste system".

Over the next six months the Government will continue to support awareness-raising amongst existing and new producers, to encourage them to participate fully in the UK WEEE system. As part of this system we will also be appointing of an independent WEEE Advisory Body to assess the effectiveness of the Regulations and keep them under review.

The Regulations will be enforced proportionately by the environment agencies. The priority is to get unregistered producers into compliance schemes so that they can make an appropriate contribution to the system but DBERR says enforcement action will be taken against any business that seeks an advantage by flouting the rules.

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