Key parts of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment ("WEEE") Regulations (the "Regulations") came into full force in the UK on 1 July. The implementation of the Regulations is intended to reduce the environmental impact of electronic waste by encouraging the recycling (as opposed to disposing by way of landfill), re-use and environmentally sound disposal of such waste. Every manufacturer, importer and re-brander ("Producers") of electronic or electrical equipment ("EEE") and businesses selling, treating or dismantling EEE will all be affected.

Not all electronic products are covered by the Regulations so it is important, therefore, that companies cover identified products falling within its scope. There are 10 product categories:

  1. Large household appliances (such as fridges and washing machines)
  2. Small household appliances
  3. IT and telecommunications equipment (such as computers and mobile phones)
  4. Consumer equipment
  5. Lighting equipment
  6. Electrical and electronic tools
  7. Toys, leisure and sports equipment
  8. Medical devices
  9. Monitoring and control instruments
  10. Automatic dispensers (such as vending machines)

Producers' Responsibility

All Producers were required to join an approved producer compliance scheme ("PCS") by 15 March 2007. PCSs should register their members with the relevant regulator (which is the Environment Agency in England and Wales and SEPA in Scotland) and provide for the collection, treatment and environmentally sound disposal of WEEE.

A company can join a PCS by signing up with a scheme operator and paying the respective fees. It should be noted that PCSs will differ with respect to the services that they provide and their fee structure. It is, therefore, advisable to consult several PCS providers for comparisons. Alternatively, it is possible to set up one's own PCS and some companies have decided to do this.

Distributors' Responsibility

Under the Regulations, retailers and other distributors of EEE must either offer in-store take-back of WEEE or, instead opt to join a distributor take back scheme ("DTS") which involves paying to fund a network of 1,450 public collection facilities where consumers can return old items or offer in-store take-back of old equipment when customers purchase a replacement item.

Companies that choose to implement in-store take back of household WEEE must do so free of charge irrespective of when and where the original product was purchased. The cost of organising for WEEE to be removed and the recording obligations imposed by the Regulations may make joining a DTS a cheaper option. The information on how WEEE can be disposed should be made available to customers at the time of purchase.

It is important to be aware that failure to comply with the WEEE Regulations is a criminal offence.