WEEE the present and the future - Embedded.com

WEEE the present and the future

Interview: Colin Holland speaks to David Sutcliffe, Sales Director of CKS, who explains the implications of WEEE and how the situation should be appoached.

Can you tell me about CKS?

CKS Group plc is an ISO9001 & 14001 Ofex-listed company and one of the UK’s leading end-of-life information technology organisations. Additionally, CKS Group plc (Rushden, England) has an ‘intelligent’ and innovative approach to IT refurbishment, redeployment, reuse, remarketing and recycling.

Our innovative approach to working with our clients ensures:

• maximum return on first (and subsequent) end-of-life or redundant equipment

• compliance with all relevant privacy legislation, including the UK Data Protection Act (1998)

• compliance with the EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE 2002)

• waste avoidance above waste disposal.

You mention the WEEE Directive, what is it and what is the purpose of it?

The bottom line is that the purpose of the WEEE Directive is to 'prevent' the production of waste and encourage the re-use, recycling and recovery of materials. Therefore the directive is everything associated with avoiding waste.

Unfortunately, in the UK and much of Europe, the purpose of the WEEE Directive has been hijacked by short-term arguments about who the 'producers' are, and how they might avoid their obligations to best deal with the hazardous components.

So let’s get a grip of the real problem. Electrical and Electronic equipment is the fastest growing waste stream in the European Union and represents upwards of 6.5 million tonnes a year, growing at a rate of up to 8% per year. This is a major concern.

Up to now focus of the WEEE Directive has been on consumer waste and its collection, in contrast to the WEEE generated by the business sector operations and the associated obligations.

To date the focus has been on how to deal with the historic mess and to begin to prepare the ground for a new way of thinking about waste avoidance. In 2008, the EU intends to complete the process by reinforcing good practice in asset life extension and encouraging eco-friendly design.

What does it mean for the B2B IT marketplace? Will it benefit?

Every business will be affected not just the manufacturers, retailers and importers. Company decisions about 'IT' assets will trigger a set of activity just as complicated as initial procurement, and managing this cost effectively is as much an internal challenge as it is a producer challenge.

Manufacturers will need to develop lifecycle based costing models for the products that they release, and recognise at inception the costs and potential harm that their design choices can make later in the product’s life. Manufacturers that do this well will realise a huge opportunity to truly market themselves as 'Eco Friendly'.

Likewise, through refurbishing, resale and redeployment, corporates should reap a significant return on assets that have reached first end-of-life use (that should be at zero balance on the financials) thus returning addition monies straight to the bottom line.

No one can doubt the benefits… but getting there will take more than a few Directives. It will take an entire culture change in the way many of us regard our assets and conduct our business.

So what are some of the issues businesses should be aware of regarding WEEE?

There are two key areas that a business should think about:

1. The double impact on a business’s IT budget. Until 2008 business users are responsible for the treatment and disposal of historic WEEE. They can and should negotiate with the producers about these costs and in the case of 'like for like' system replacement the obligation shifts towards the supply chain. The supply chain, for their part, will avoid these historic costs as much as they can as they try to focus on up-front cost recovery for future product sales. CKS can help both sides of this negotiation process. 2. As important but less visible is the risk of valuable company data or client information getting into the wrong hands – WEEE treatment is not the same as the management of data at end of life, indeed the security and data protection and privacy issues are not dealt with at all. Data protection and privacy compliance should be at the top of a businesses agenda – in preference to WEEE issues but influencing the overall path and costs for appropriate treatment once data has been securely disposed. CKS have extensive experience with dealing with these challenges for financial and defence sector customers.

So what advice would you offer companies on how to deal with this?

Companies have an obligation to take responsibility for the disposal of their equipment at end-of-life by using a company that puts security as a priority, rather than rely on producers to remove their old kit, or worse still fall for the “I’Il take that away for you free – Guv” one man and a van approach. Does any of the following ring a bell?

1. I let a local guy pick it up once a month and I don’t know what he does with it.2. I put a spike through the hard drive and throw it in the bin.3. Just put it in the skip with the other waste.

Companies should also work to batch their WEEE into economically viable lots for processing by specialist facilities if they want to ensure optimal value is recovered and possibly even returned to the business beyond the simplistic disposal costs associated with the generic shred and smash operators.

A note of caution is relevant here about hazardous waste. Many products become hazardous beyond certain concentration levels.

For example, more than 200kg of CRT displays (that’s approx 15 x 17inch monitors) will constitute a notifiable risk that imposes all manner of new obligations on a business user outside of WEEE when that business decide to discard them.

There is some scope for confusion in this regard. CRTs are not hazards during their useful life, which may be extended by relevant refurbishment, but at the time of the disposal decision they may become reclassified automatically as a hazardous product depending on the size of the batch in question.

Under existing Environment Agency regulations, any premises with such quantities must register as a producer of hazardous waste. They must use an organisation that has the relevant waste carrier licences to have the product removed.

From the Environment Agency’s perspective, the company will be held liable for its 'demonstrable intent' and not just its stated aims in this regard. Thus, if companies truly intend their CRT’s to be refurbished for resale, they will have to exercise the same care with that equipment as they would for new equipment, and not handle it as if it is rubbish… and in this case hazardous waste.

Do the DTI regulations matter?

Of course DTI regulations are important in England and Wales, however they do not matter as much as the EU’s WEEE Directive or Commission Decisions which over time will represent a build up of relevant case law and tested legal precedent . Whether the DTI’s regulations are enforceable is partly up to the EU and they will no doubt be tested in the European court. By the same token, business has a responsibility to the EU Directive even in the absence of any local implementation guidance.

The DTI have had a very difficult task. They have been trying their best to reflect producer concerns in localised regulations without shirking their responsibilities to the environment and to fostering small business. This has been a tough job and it is inevitable that there will be a lot of unhappy people. What is clear is that we all have a shared responsibility to pay for the costs of cleaning up our environment, and dealing with the historic WEEE is not going to be a trivial or cheap exercise.

In short, the DTI regulations do not have to be “fair”, they simply have to be appropriate in the context of wider social priorities. Organisations responsible for much of the mess have downsized or are even long gone, and those companies that are growing today may have done little to contribute to the historical mess. Realistically only those companies who can pay will pay.

How are exporters affected?

The DTI regulations are just one of several country specific sets of implementation advice that exporters need to be aware of. Exporters will need to ensure that they are compliant with equivalent implementation guidance and regulations in each and every country where they do business; however they can’t go too wrong as the EU’s WEEE Directive provides a great foundation for consistency. The difficulty for exporters will come when WEEE enters and exits the EU, in that case they will need to provide evidence that WEEE is being handled and processed to EU standards by receiving countries.

I believe there are two sets of guidance on this – from both the Environment Agency and DEFRA. In your view how relevant are they?

To my mind, the two organisations have different agendas, both of which are relevant and valuable. Rightly, the two organisations have different perspectives on what is essentially a single vision.

The Environment Agency are responsible for 'producer' registrations, but they have the power and mandate to make an example of any high profile offenders. They are particularly focussed on the dangers represnted by unreasonable concentrations of hazards. Their treatment guidance should be read in this context.

DEFRA will try and encourage the non-generic treatment of WEEE so as to ensure that the industry does not simply adopt a one-size fits all processing model that ends up being highly inefficient in both hazard removal as well as per category, recovery target attainment. Thus they will try and guide a diverse set of best practice for the different types of WEEE that are typically collected.

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