… And a happy new EEEra

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Mandating the take-back and recycling of all electrical or electronic products with a battery or a plug, the implications of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive throughout the supply chain are immense. Warnings of ‘plan now’ to avoid ‘paying later’ have been heeded by many producers, but there are still significant numbers of companies who are playing catch up in terms of managing WEEE.

For many businesses, the WEEE Directive is seen as a costly, inconvenient and commercially limiting directive. And they would be right, if they are only considering the ramifications now.

Essentially, WEEE compliance offers two broad choices for producers. The first choice is for companies to group together to set up third-party organisations to administer the collection, transport and disposal of products. The other choice is for individual firms, who see economic opportunities in end-of-life products. This is a particularly pertinent option where the re-manufacture, re-use and safe disposal for sensitive data of computer equipment are concerned.

Whichever option is preferred Ñü similarly to lean manufacturing and JIT delivery Ñü the supply chain will be targeted to assist in the safe end-of-life management of WEEE and the impact on the logistics sector is set to be significant.

With the first stop along the supply chain being the producer, the pressure is on for them to reduce the number of parts in their own products. In this way, the start of a product’s life helps simplify disassembly and recycling at the end of its life.

Moving down the supply chain, a major area where producers should look for support is in ‘closing the logistics loop’. Over the past few years there has been a noticeable step change from the major logistics players, anticipating the demands associated with WEEE and other environmental legislation. Those that already operate reverse logistics operations will be at an advantage in providing support to EEE producers for their end-of-life goods.

As well as the usual shared distribution, full-load and part-load capabilities, many providers are expanding their product and service portfolios to become environmental specialists, with such offerings as pollution control, recycling and environmental consultancy.

Indeed, the proliferation of national, provincial and state implementations of the same directive supports the need for international logistics specialists. Today, there are about 40 implementations of the WEEE directive. Within two years, there are expected to be more than 100 variants.

For organisations that produce goods for multiple markets, being able to work with a logistics provider that has the understanding of ‘country-specific’ legislation, will be of major benefit.

For those logistics providers who have obtained the licences to become environmental specialists, the rewards for their investment should be sweet. For those that haven’t, a major concern is forming in terms of what they will and won’t be able to transport.

One of the problems occurs in the differentiation between ‘product’ and ‘waste’ as only those logistics providers with a licence can carry waste. Taking the example of computer equipment, CRT monitors being redeployed will be considered ‘product’. However, at some point they will become not merely waste but hazardous waste and must be handled correctly.

To this end, waste is determined by the holder deliberately putting a product into the waste stream but highlights that clearer guidelines are needed – something companies will look to their logistics provider for, particularly in redefining their pre-disposal and disposal processes.

This and other issues, including the specifics of the proposed national clearing house (NCH) need to be clarified so that logistics partners can provide the most suitable support for EEE and, therefore, WEEE producers. Once this is achieved, a partnership approach in terms of intelligence and best practice between logistics provider and producer will prove beneficial to ensure specific material-related requirements and seasonal fluctuations in activity are catered for.

From product concept to its disposal, all areas need to be explored in a partnership approach between the logistics provider and

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