This month saw the first prosecution in the United Kingdom for an offence under the producer responsibility legislation for waste electrical and electronic equipment ('WEEE'). The WEEE Directive and associated regulations aim to improve the environmental performance of businesses that manufacture, use, recycle and recover electrical/electronic equipment (for a guide to the WEEE regime, and the obligations you should be aware of, click here for the WEEE FAQs on our website).

Aston and Fincher Ltd, a hairdressing supplies company based in Birmingham, pleaded guilty to charges dating from 2001-2007 relating to their failure to register as a producer of electrical/electronic waste. As a part of their business, the company imported electrical items into the United Kingdom, but failed to meet their obligation of registering with an appropriate Producer Compliance Scheme (as is required by the WEEE Directive).

The company also pleaded guilty to charges of failure to comply with waste packaging regulations. All of the offences were uncovered by the Environment Agency through routine investigation.

Aston and Fincher were fined £650 for each separate offence, which, with a total of 31 charges against the company, amounted to £20,150. However, along with £7,135 the company was ordered to pay in compensation to the Environment Agency, and £3,605 in costs, the total came to the sizeable figure of £30,890.

By comparison, registering correctly would have cost the company less than £11,000 for the years concerned.

In attempted mitigation, the company secretary of Aston and Fincher pointed out that the company did not deliberately flout the regulations; rather they were simply unaware of them. However, a company's responsibility for its waste is no exception to the established legal principle - ignorance of the law provides no excuse. The lesson to be learned is that companies should be aware of their obligations under the WEEE Directive, and ensure compliance at all times. This will save significant costs, not to mention the damage to reputation caused by being named and shamed.