Bottom line: will WEEE work?
The details of WEEE have been under discussion for more than a decade, yet we are already two years late implementing regulations that passed into European law in 2005. Many councils and companies seem unlikely to meet the 1 July deadline.
The chances of everything working smoothly from the off look slim, and experts say the system will take at least a year to settle down. Some local authorities haven't even signed up with compliance schemes.
"Local authorities are an interesting phenomenon, because they might be
trying to wait and see how the financing works out," says Clare Snow.
One local council, Bromley in Kent, says consumers should check to see what WEEE products their local tip will accept. "My advice to consumers would be to check with their local council what arrangements are in place once the directive comes into effect," says Bromley Council's Andrew Rogers.
It all sounds worryingly like seat-of-your-pants management. The next few months could be very interesting indeed.
Changes in production
Researchers at computer companies the world over are beginning to put their minds to making PCs greener, in terms of materials used and how easy they are to dismantle and recycle.
This is not only good for the bottom line, but it makes sound business sense.
"By 2010, 75 percent of our sales will be in markets with WEEE-type regulations – everywhere from Canada and Australia to Dubai and India," says HP's Kirstie McIntyre.
Manufacturers are beginning to think about disassembly early in the design process – anything that makes it quicker and easier to remove components automatically, rather than by hand.
"Designing for recycling is something that's been coming for a long time, and we've been reducing the screws we use, the glue and the hazardous waste," she says.
Rival companies such as Dell are also trying to cut the amount of materials used in their computers. The fewer materials used, the easier they will be to remove and recycle.
A cocktail of plastics, for example, is very difficult to recycle. If plastics are mixed they will degrade when melted down, but if companies use one type of plastic this can be recycled and turned into new laptop cases.
There are plans afoot to make a computer's environmental credentials more transparent. "There are no energy labels on PCs the way there are on washing machines," says PC World's Victoria Patterson.
"People want to see how eco-friendly goods are and what's inside, so a labelling system might make people more aware."