New rules covering electrical and electronic goods will change the landscape for UK producers, importers and retailers, according to experts at Birmingham-based law firm Pinsent Masons.
The Restriction on the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances Directive (known as RoHS) will come into force next month, but its twin European Directive, the Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Directive (WEEE), has yet to be implemented into UK law, despite the EU deadline being long passed.
From July 1, products put on the market in the UK must not contain any of six listed hazardous substances. Some are still found in everyday products such as batteries, circuit boards and LCD displays.
The WEEE rules will make producers responsible for the disposal of goods ranging from broken iPods to ageing washing machines.
Producers - and that includes retailers - will have to finance the recovery, treatment and recycling of equipment. Strict treatment standards and targets for recovery and recycling will be written into law.
Companies can choose now between two routes to achieve compliance - participate in an industry compliance scheme or implement their own system for take-back. Whichever route is chosen, the producer or the compliance scheme has to register with the Environment Agency and provide it with data on the amount of electrical equipment which it places on the EU market.
This will form the basis for the calculation of the company's take-back and recycling obligations.
Consumer-facing companies are more likely to join industry compliance schemes, such as Valpak, the Industry Council for Electronic Equip-ment Recycling, or ICER. These collect the goods and reprocess on behalf of all members.
Pinsent Masons is currently helping companies that produce high-cost, low volume goods - like manufacturers of medical equipment - with their own take-back schemes.
Naomi Lindsay, a lawyer in the planning and environ-mental team in Birmingham, said: "The WEEE Regulations will make producers responsible for financing collection, treatment, recycling and recovery, but they will also put an onus on distributors and retailers to provide free take-back facilities to consumers. The WEEE regime will not just apply to new products - producers will be made responsible for goods already on the market.
"Producers choosing to operate their own take-back system should revise their standard terms and conditions, to place the necessary exchange or return obligations on those to whom they supply. Negotiating contracts with WEEE reprocessors now is also more likely to secure the best prices for long term collection and reprocessing arrangements.
"Companies should not underestimate the potential for falling foul of the regulations. They should be addressing now how they will deal with using non-compliant products after the deadline."