Computer disposal laws in force from July 2007

Computer manufacturers will finally be responsible for the disposal of their products in the UK following a consultation process launched by the Government yesterday. The so-called WEEE laws are now drafted – but should have been in place by August 2004.

The Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) was passed in 2003 and initial plans to pass it into UK law were scheduled to start in 2004. The Department of Trade and Industry now says that the Directive will be law on 1st July 2007.

One of the measures which the environmental legislation will put in place is a Distributor Takeback Scheme, which will involve facilities across the country where people can drop off old equipment to be disposed of in an environmentally-sound way. The producers of the equipment will have to finance these.

"Electrical equipment is the fastest growing category of rubbish across the European Union, with around 20kg per person produced every year, and the UK alone is now generating around 1m tonnes of the stuff every year," said energy minister Malcolm Wicks.

"By providing a way of ensuring that electronic waste no longer has to go to landfills, manufacturers and importers will have the responsibility to ensure that they plan for both their new and existing products to be recycled rather than dumped," said Wicks.

The law will place a greater administrative burden on suppliers of equipment. They will have to register with waste schemes and more closely track their products in order to pay for their disposal.

"It will be similar to the laws about packaging waste," said Paul Rice, a partner specialising in environmental law at Pinsent Masons, the firm behind OUT-LAW.COM. "Companies joined schemes which negotiated with local authorities and waste management companies to collect and recycle material on behalf of members."

"Those schemes were very complicated and there were problems, but the WEEE schemes will be much more complicated because the materials are much more varied," said Rice.

Producer and supplier trade bodies the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances (AMDEA) and the Small Electrical Appliance Marketing Association (SEAMA) warned that the law will cause problems. The SEAMA said that it would lead to price rises on consumer electrical and electronic goods.

The AMDEA said that the charges were unfair in cases where old equipment made by companies that no longer exist and cannot pay their share will be disposed of at a cost to current suppliers.

The Conservative Party took issue with the delays in implementing the law. "The Government have gone about implementing this Directive in a thoroughly shambolic way," shadow trade secretary Alan Duncan told the Daily Mail. "Endless delays, reviews and consultations have created uncertainty for retailers and the impression that the Government does not take this issue seriously."

"The delays were because a lot of the regulations were not clear enough," said Rice. "The UK and Malta are the only of the 25 Member States not to have transposed the Directive into law, but other people are having problems too. Many other countries missed the deadline last year to have the laws come into force."