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What is the WEEE Directive?

Aug 17, 2007
No, we're not talking about the Wii - the latest must-have games console from Nintendo - but European Union legislation. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) 2006 directive concerns the responsible disposal of electrical and computer equipment by companies and individuals, and is now enshrined in European Law. The Environment Agency sums it up thus: "This directive aims to reduce the amount of WEEE being produced and encourages everyone to reuse, recycle and recover it." The purpose of the directive is to protect the "soil, water and air against pollution through better disposal of waste and electrical and electronic equipment. It also stimulates the reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery of such wastes so as to reduce the disposal of waste."

But, what does it mean to us, and how does it control the disposal of our used electrical equipment such as computers and household electrical items? The directive is designed to make us think about the impact on the environment that the disposal of electrical and computer equipment has. We can no longer just dump equipment without giving it a second thought. Prior to the introduction of this legislation up to 1.5million PCs were disposed of in landfill sites throughout the UK and who knows how long it will take for them to decompose? Now, they must either be recycled bit by bit making safe any hazardous or toxic components, or they must be reconditioned making them useful again, if not for use within Europe then in third world countries. Many charities exist which will gladly accept discarded equipment that can be utilised for schools and community projects for many years, in both this country and in the third world.

Before dispatching your equipment to far-flung corners of the world the hard disks must be wiped clean, as unfortunately many PCs are discarded still loaded with information that the previous owners certainly wouldn't want anyone else to access! Reputable charities ensure that this happens on your behalf as part of the reconditioning process. As owners we often get rid of PC equipment when there is absolutely nothing functionally wrong with it. It will still work, but just not as fast as the latest models that we have replaced it with, so it's ideal for that sort of kit to go to the computer charities. If you are concerned that by exporting the reconditioned computers to the third world, we are merely shifting the waste burden there, then don't be. The charities involved have already guaranteed that the computers will be disposed of ethically once they are obsolete.

However, some other equipment may not be as easily reconditioned as it really is obsolete so it has to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. There are now a number of professional computer disposal equipment companies, who will collect your old equipment and ensure that it is destroyed in accordance with the WEEE directive by breaking it down and make all the components safe. If you use a company such as this they will provide you with a detailed summary of what they have done with your old equipment, ensuring that you are aware of what has happened to it and putting your mind at rest that you have done your bit for the environment and according to the latest legislation.
About the Author
Daniel Johansson is an Internet technologist and avid supporter of recycling legislation. Whilst the WEEE directive legislation mainly affects businesses, households should also be encouraged to participate in computer disposal and recycling programmes.
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