[Ask the Experts, Feb 2006]

The European Union’s WEEE (Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive took effect last August. What’s happening? Should I care?

Gil: Let’s take the second question first: If you manufacture any Electrical and Electronic Equipment that is sold in the European Union — or components for those products — you should care, since failure to meet the EU’s requirements could result in being closed out of a market that represents about one-third of global revenues for the industry.

What’s happening? The directive took effect last August, but implementation is slow. Phil Hillman, Polaroid’s EHS director, observes that most EU countries are not as ready for full implementation. “Since the critical action to complete is the collection infrastructure — and perhaps a year’s delay until that’s in place — we’ve focused on the product labeling and registration.”

Mike Kirschner of Design Chain Associates concurs: “Industry has been given a bit of a ‘breather’ — but I think that’s over. We have not seen any enforcement action until just last week — when a retailer in Ireland was fined for not notifying customers of a surcharge to cover WEEE-related costs.”

Pam Gordon of Technology Forecasters Inc observes that “A significant number or OEMs in the electronics industry are not prepared to meet the requirements of the June 2006 WEEE legislation. In fact, there is an unsettling amount of uncertainty in the industry regarding the many facets and implications of WEEE on OEMs; one-third or more of our survey respondents are still uncertain about their plans.”

Bottom line:

  • Don’t procrastinate, ignore it, or hope it will go away.
  • Don’t assume it won’t apply to you if you don’t export to Europe — because your customers may.
  • Do inventory your products and to ensure you can meet customer and regulator expectations.
  • Be sure you’re collecting relevant data on your won and your suppliers products and components.
  • Be sure your procurement organization is up to date on these expectations _and_ has the tools to meet them.
  • Update your inventory management, parts numbering, etc to ensure no mix-ups between compliant and non-compliant components.
  • And most importantly: drive these new factors upstream into your design — and not just for current requiremments: get ready for RoHS, EuP and REACH — coming soon to a global marketplace near you!

For more on the WEEE Directive, read my previous columns:

Avoiding the Next Train Wreck
The environmental crisis now facing the electronics industry raises concerns about the level of fiduciary duty exercised by business leaders who should have done a better job of seeing it coming, and of preventing it.

It Began With a Dot: Product Regulation and Future Markets
Some perspective on both the barriers and the opportunities of the European Union’s new environmental regulations — and how companies that understand the ecosystem drivers behind these new regulations can potentially get out ahead of them.

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