Counting the cost

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Where once end-of-life electrical products were disposed of through household waste and council amenity sites, from August 2004, they will go back through another channel: via retailers and producers. The new impending EU Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) will force supermarkets and producers to take back end-of-life product, whether they supplied them or not. The Directive is pushing returns handling firmly up the retail agenda to encourage eco-friendly designs.

In a competitive grocery market place, retail multiples are looking to non-food products – from household to clothing, electrical items, brown and white goods – for growth from existing stores. Bouncing back at a rate of 15% and depreciating at 10% per month or more, it is now the retail outlet – not just producer – which faces the prospect of dealing with returns.

That is being brought to a head with new EU legislation which controls disposal of electrical and electronic products. From August 2004, the WEEE Directive will make it illegal to send products such as old computers, mobile phones, televisions, radios and other household goods to landfill sites. Retailers and manufacturers will have to recycle them.

With echoes of the 1980s and fridges shipped to Germany and Scandinavia for disposal, WEEE puts the environment firmly back on the agenda. Where once there was a fridge mountain, add to it toasters, televisions, hairdryers, DVD and CD players, PCs, desk-lamps, and drills and the mountain becomes a convergence zone of plate tectonic proportions.

Europe discards six million tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment each year, with the UK’s contribution being 15%. With the average household doubling the number of electrical appliances it owns every five years the amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment supermarkets and producers must face is set to double by 2009. Whilst 90% of waste electrical and electronic equipment can currently be lost in landfill, under the new WEEE requirements, the UK will be expected to recycle over a third overnight. And with processing costs at up to £24 per item and recovered credit at just 60%, there is good reason for retailers to start totting up the bill.


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