EC mounts hard drive to recycle PCs

The Department of Trade is still in the consultation stage on exactly how to handle the thousands of obsolete PCs disposed of every year. But it is unclear whether the department will opt for a ‘national clearing house’ (NCH) to coordinate the collection and treatment of electronic equipment. A government-backed NCH is a much favoured option among equipment manufacturers.

The obligation to recycle computers comes as part of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which comes into force this month, but will not be implemented until August next year.

The European Commission and environmental campaigners believe the legislation is crucial if the wholesale dumping of computer equipment into landfill sites is to be halted.

Under the new rules, vendors and manufacturers are obliged to take back obsolete equipment on a one-for-one, like-for-like basis when they deliver new machines.

However, there is no requirement for them to deal with waste equipment beyond this point, which places the onus on companies to dispose of equipment that vendors don’t take back.

But the lack of a coordinated plan for collection is causing consternation among manufacturers. Samsung, Sony and Fujitsu are among the companies that have formed the Strategic Electronic Waste Policy Forum to outline plans for the possible development of a national clearing house.

But it remains unclear how the concept should operate. And the government has indicated it is up to industry to work out how the scheme will work.

In a final consultation document published last Friday, the government said: ‘The establishment of an NCH poses a major timetable challenge. The government expects the producer community, which has pressed strongly for an NCH, now to take a leading role in taking this forward.’

But some manufacturers feel it may be too late to set up a viable NCH.

‘The key issue for this is time and we don’t have a lot of confidence the deadlines can be met,’ said Mike Dinsdale, marketing director for Brother.

‘It also seems the DTI appears to have another agenda. It says it reserves the right to do something else, but what are its plans?’

The DTI has said that, although the UK is behind schedule, countries including France and Germany appear to have shelved WEEE compliance indefinitely. The DTI believes an agreement can be reached by October and that an NCH is still a feasible proposition. The government’s consultation on the draft regulations and guidance will end on 29 October 2004.

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