Survival of the conformist

Are you ready for RoHS and WEEE? Paul James outlines the current state of legislation and the problems companies may face as a result of the new environmental regime

Waste is fast becoming public enemy number one in the eyes of the European Union, which is behind the imminent introduction of some of the most rigorous environmental legislation to hit UK businesses.

Specifically, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directives will hit many businesses involved in the manufacture and retailing of any electrical product with a plug or a battery.

One important issue on most boardroom agenda is the raft of environmental regulations that will soon become law across Europe – although the WEEE Directive has been delayed once again. For many businesses involved in electrical goods and electronic products, this presents a major headache. While many have developed strategies for managing their conformity with WEEE and RoHS, many more are nowhere near compliance. And non-compliance to RoHS is not an option.

RoHS will create shock waves across industry. It means that component manufacturers, product manufacturers, brand owners or importers will have responsibilities to ensure that electric and electronic products do not contain more than minimal levels of

six banned substances. It is all about the beginning of a product’s life.

While many busy executives may see RoHS as more red tape, the possible consequences of non-compliance could mean retailers refusing to stock products without a RoHS certificate.

WEEE is concerned with the end of a product’s life. It creates recycling and recovery targets for electrical products and is concerned with the disposal of redundant goods. The UK alone produces 915,000 tonnes of WEEE every year. Extrapolating across Europe shows the scale is huge – and the introduction of legislation across the 25 member states will be no mean feat.

WEEE has far-reaching implications on two counts: the collection of disused product, and appropriate recycling. While brand owners and retailers need to consider the pros and cons of setting up their own collection schemes or outsourcing to a logistics specialist, they also need to address recycling and appropriate treatment for end-of-life products.

Manufacturers of electrical goods should be conducting detailed audits of their total supply chains now to ensure compliance with RoHS. In order to protect their reputation, market share and profitability, manufacturers need to establish scalable data capture systems to track suppliers’ and sub-suppliers’ compliance.

Exporting companies have an even more pressing need to use intelligent data management systems as the potential for complexity is magnified. If products are packaged, this task could be even more onerous as they may fall under the European packaging waste directive, in its 25 forms.

While RoHS is being implemented in a broadly standard form across Europe, the countries have different interpretations of WEEE, and even different timetables. Germany will start enforcing its rules from March 2006, while Ireland has stuck to the August 2005 timetable set out in the original directive. The UK Government has yet to make up its mind.

Meeting these widely different requirements will be a significant issue for businesses – especially those with significant export interests – who need to establish reliable and accurate systems to deal with the potential mountain of administration needed to comply with both RoHS and WEEE.

Many have already adopted web-based reporting systems that automatically collect and submit data for both RoHS and WEEE, while also updating the organisation on the latest revisions to legislation and reporting requirements.

Like it or not, businesses now need to show they are meeting environmental targets. Those that invest in people and technology to turn this challenge into a competitive advantage are likely to come out as winners. Those that ignore the legislation coming down the track will surely wither as they lose contracts, credibility and market share.

  • Paul James is the General Manager of Exel’s Environmental Compliance solutions

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