The days of computer junking are over

8 Apr 2003

The cost of complying with a new European directive on the recycling of computers and other electronic/electrical goods could be up to €10m a year, a leading expert has said.

“People are a bit worried about any system that’s going to be costly and cumbersome,” said Donal Buckley, director of IBEC’s environment unit, referring to early feedback from computer businesses to the new Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.

Under the directive, which was agreed in February, manufacturers, distributors and retailers of electronic and electrical goods, from TVs to computers, toasters to toys, will be obliged to recycle used equipment. A target has been set of 4kg of recycled material per head of population annually by 2006. Although retailers may be responsible for collecting old electronic goods for recycling, ultimate responsibility for compliance will rest with the ‘brand holder’, ie the producer or manufacturer.

The penalties facing individual Irish-based companies that fail to put recycling schemes in place will be those allowed under the Waste Management Act. An extreme case of criminal negligence could result in a fine of €12.7m but penalties will more likely run into the low thousands.

Companies within the industry have a choice of individual or collective compliance, ie they can each contribute to a fund used to pay a sub-contractor to recycle computer material on their behalf or they can make their own recycling arrangements. According to Buckley, any collective solution that evolves will need to be “cost-effective, simple and transparent” to gain the broad support of industry.

Buckley is scheduled to speak later today at a one-day conference organised by IBEC and its technology arm, ICT Ireland, to provide practical assistance to business on preparing for the implementation of the directive in Ireland. He is also a member of a Government task force set up to examine the implementation of the directive in Ireland.

One of the challenges facing the task force, Buckley noted, is how to manage the significant amount of existing equipment in the marketplace whose manufacturer may no longer exist. “It’s not clear yet who will pay for the recycling of that material,” he remarked.
He expected that the task force would have made its preliminary report by the end of the year.

Member states are required to implement the WEEE directive by August 2004.

By Brian Skelly