RoHS and WEEE could hit businesses hard

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Under regulations implementing the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directives, businesses falling short of the required standards could face potentially unlimited fines.

Simply failing to register as a producer of electrical and electronic equipment, include required information in marketing materials, or meet recycling targets could result in fines of as much as 5,000 on summary conviction, and unlimited fines on conviction on indictment.

Implemented in the UK on 1st July 2007, the WEEE Directive aims to encourage increased recycling, recovery and re-use of electrical and electronic goods, and ultimately to divert increasing amounts of used goods away from landfill. The RoHS Directive, implemented in the UK on 1st July 2006, aims to restrict the use of specific hazardous substances used in the manufacture of electrical and electronic equipment.

To date there have been no UK convictions for failure to meet the requirements of the RoHS and WEEE Directives.

European Union treating regulations seriously

In a clear demonstration of the seriousness with which it regards the legislation, the European Union prosecuted the Irish division of a well known high street retailer in 2006. Fining it 12,500 for failure to display a specific notice in its stores, alerting customers to the fact that its electronic product prices included a contribution to the producer recycling fund, to ensure old electrical and electronic equipment is collected and recycled responsibly. In 2001, a household-name electronic giant's sales were hit when it became apparent that its product used more than the allowed amount of cadmium, costs ran into the millions. Further cases will almost inevitably follow, in the UK as well as overseas.

Across the European Union, penalties can be severe. Here are a few examples:

  • Germany: Fines of up to 25,000 and product recalls
  • Estonia: Fines of up to  1.5 million
  • France: Fines of up to 7,500 per infraction
  • Netherlands: Unlimited fines and imprisonment
  • Poland: Prohibitions on sales and revocation of trade licenses
  • Czech Republic and Spain: Revocation of trade licenses
  • Ireland: Product recalls and prohibition on sales
  • UK: Unlimited fines

Where does the buck stop?

To further complicate the issues surrounding WEEE and RoHS, there are various questions as to who is responsible for what, under the new regulations. For example, if the EC want us to recycle or re-use equipment then presumably it is the equipment manufacturers' responsibility to remove barriers to the re-use of used or refurbished equipment. Historically manufacturers have preferred to block or at least hinder such re-use, in order to promote sales of new product: Would erecting such blocks now be considered unlawful or anti-directive behavior?

There are many unanswered questions and in all probability it will take a number of test cases in the courts to hammer out the details. In the meantime, businesses can keep up to date with the requirements of the RoHS and WEEE Directives through the following resources:

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