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Santa: environmental catastrophe?

Santa Claus is ignoring his environmental obligations and could be putting the lives of thousands of livestock and agricultural livelihoods at risk, according to experts in the field.14 Dec 2007

The generous geriatric is facing the latest in a long line of legal quandaries as he rushes to finish millions of presents, but in his haste he may be ignoring his obligations to recycle and dispose of goods he has previously delivered, said one expert.

"Santa and the elves, as producers of electrical and electronic equipment, will have obligations in relation to goods placed on the market, together with responsibilities for financing the treatment, reprocessing and environmentally sound disposal of them," said Kirsty Isla Cooper, an environmental law specialist at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.

Claus must comply with the European Union's Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment Directive, which from this year made producers of goods responsible for their environmentally sound disposal.

"Under the WEEE Regulations Santa and the Elves will be obligated to join a producer compliance scheme (PCS) to discharge their financial responsibilities in respect of the treatment, re-use, recovery, recycling and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE they have placed on the market," said Cooper.

"All producers, irrespective of size, were to register with an approved PCS by 15th March 2007, so Santa and the elves may be in breach if they have not registered and so they may face prosecution," she said. "The financial implications are substantial."

Cooper said that Claus and the elves have all sorts of administrative responsibilities for letting the PCS and distributors know all about the products they are distributing.

It is unclear whether the elves are separately responsible because The Grotto has not answered OUT-LAW's questions about whether elves are employees of Claus or are independent contractors.

Claus delivers presents in a sleigh drawn by nine reindeer, and may be committing a far more serious environmental problem with his choice of mode of transport should he use the sleigh in the south of England, which has suffered outbreaks of foot and mouth and bluetongue disease.

His use of hooved animals in areas blighted by transmittable diseases is potentially his most serious safety breach. Outbreaks of foot and mouth and bluetongue diseases this autumn have put the future of the already-battered UK farming industry in jeaopardy once again. Claus's bringing of reindeer in and out of restriction zones could be a serious threat to the industry.

"Foot and mouth is alright, but these are susceptible animals for blue tongue," a spokeswoman for the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) told OUT-LAW.COM.

"The Bluetongue exclusion zone is still in operation and applies to reindeer," she said. "There is a 150km surveillance zone around the exclusion zone. You wouldn't be able to go in there with reindeer and leave with them alive."