WEEE directive brings legal headaches

PricewaterhouseCoopers is set to warn UK businesses that new laws covering IT recycling will bring a clutch of legal problems

Companies will face a variety of legal challenges as they attempt to comply with the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) will caution this week.

A report from the consultancy firm, due out on Tuesday, will warn that UK companies may have more than just another regulatory headache to deal with once the directive comes into force in the UK in June 2006.

Under the new law, the costs and obligations of producing products which are more environmentally friendly — and ultimately disposing of these products — will fall on the producer, if they are either a manufacturer or importer in one or more EU states.

PWC believes this means that all businesses will need to negotiate with their suppliers to ensure that they nail down the question of liability for the disposal of new products.

Marco Amitrano, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the directive is more than just another compliance hurdle for businesses to clear.

"While complying with the new regulatory environment will be critical, significant attention needs to be given to the wider legal, accounting and risk management implications," he said.

Gavin McGinty, an IT specialist at law firm Pinsent Masons, agrees that there are many other considerations aside from just regulatory changes. "One of the first challenges for hardware suppliers will be working out who should take responsibility for any legacy equipment which is being replaced," he told ZDNet UK.

"At the same time, suppliers need to think about managing the end-of-life processes for new equipment. Every time a supplier goes into a company and puts in place a new system they will need to agree with the customer who has responsibility for disposing of the system," McGinty added.

As well as focusing on the manufacturing regulations, businesses must also prepare for the legal implications of the directive. "Companies need to be developing strategic processes now to manage WEEE and RoHS [the Restriction of Hazardous Substances directive] of to ensure everything is in place for next year. Data capture, cost modelling and tracking compliance are just some of the important considerations," Amitrano warned.

Companies operating in several EU countries will have the greatest challenges to comply and will need to consider the potentially different legal and regulatory models implemented in each member state, according to PWC.