Belfast Telegraph

Is your business being left on the scrap heap?

Designed to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and improve recycling, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (or WEEE Directive) has been in operation for over a year, but many businesses remain unaware of or are confused by its requirements.

The regulations apply to all companies who import, manufacture, or re-brand electrical equipment in the UK. They also affect everyone who uses, sells, treats or disposes of the 1.8 million tonnes worth of WEEE produced annually across the UK.

Ricky Burnett, policy director with publicly-funded waste management body arc21, offers a basic step-by-step guide on how businesses can more easily navigate WEEE.

A step-by-step guide to WEEE:

Step one — work out what products are classified under the Directive. This does take a bit of consideration, as not all electrical equipment is included and there are important exemptions, such as air conditioning and other electrical based systems.

Step two — separate and store your WEEE from other equipment as this will prevent it from inadvertently ending up with other waste, particularly that destined for landfill.

Step three — contact your supplier or manufacturer of the equipment. They should be able to tell you what the collection arrangements are including treatment, recycling and disposal. (In most cases a free take back service will be available).

Step four — always keep the relevant paper work. You need to keep a record of the fact that your electrical and electronic equipment has been treated and disposed of properly. If you don’t do this then you could be subject to fines if you are unable to prove that the Directive’s regulations have been observed.

“Sources such as Netregs, Envirowise and Waste Works can provide free and easily-accessible information to businesses that need guidance on the full spectrum of environmental legislation, including the WEEE Directive,” said Ricky.

Environmental legislation

The WEEE Directive is just one example of a wide range of environmentally-focussed regulations that affect the business community. Landfill Tax, the Climate Change Levy and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme have all had a major impact upon the private sector in recent years.

“Policies like these have encouraged more companies to adopt an environmentally-friendly outlook, but they also highlight the fact that being more eco-conscious creates a number of tangible business benefits,” said Ricky.

The current standard rate of landfill tax is £32 per tonne, but this is set to increase to £48 per tonne by 2010. According to business support body NetRegs, “by reducing the amount of waste they produce businesses can typically save between 4-5% of their turnover as they will be paying less landfill tax”.

Business benefits of waste reduction

A lot of government organisations and large companies will only now work with suppliers who can demonstrate that they have adopted strong environmental business credentials. Reducing the use of raw materials, recycling or selling used materials can also lead to real business savings and improve a company’s profit margin.

“Establishing a culture where environmental issues are made a part of every business process, particularly at the initial planning stages, will allow a company to reap the rewards, both in the short and long-term,” said Ricky.

A lot of companies now place environmental concerns at the heart of their corporate social responsibility policies. More and more businesses are recognising that it has an important part to play in how they are perceived (both internally and externally) as well as how they can increase their profitability.

Pro-actively involving staff in the creation and implementation of environmentally friendly business policies will increase the likelihood of their success.

“Encouraging staff to contribute their own ideas for environmental policies can also help identify simple yet effective ways for improvement that will benefit the environment and save money,” continued Ricky.

However, failure to meet environmental legislation can result in legal action, expensive fines and a damaged reputation, all of which has an extremely negative effect on business performance.

“Successful businesses now need to keep up-to-date with the key environmental issues. Admitting that you were unaware of the rules isn’t an excuse and won’t stand up as a viable defence,” continued Ricky.

Sustainable work practices can also keep existing customers happy and be used as a marketing tool to help secure new ones. Consumers are more environmentally aware than ever before and being able to demonstrate environmental credentials can give businesses an edge over their competitors.

“By demonstrating that they are environmentally responsible, businesses can gain favourable customer reaction and improved customer loyalty. It can also lead to better relationships with suppliers and an increased appeal to ethical investors,” said Ricky.

The announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling of an £8 per tonne increase in landfill tax combined with the Government’s intention to escalate the charge year on year indicates that stricter environmental legislation is a feature of modern day living. This has significant implications for businesses.

“Given today’s tough business landscape, SME’s and large corporate’s who want to grow and thrive need to seize any and all advantages they can.

“Making your firm more environmentally sound has enormous benefits and will be increasingly important in the future,” concluded Ricky.

Ricky Burnett is policy director with publicly-funded waste management body arc21

Belfast Telegraph