Sector fears huge costs in demand to go green

10 February 2000
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10 February 2000 | Elizabeth Bellamy

A draft European Union directive forcing companies in the electrical sector to make their supply chains environmentally friendly will prove costly for the UK industry, a lobby group has warned.

While political wrangling by EU ministers is likely to delay the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive until Easter, the document is already having an effect on electrical manufacturers and materials suppliers, said Claire Snow, director of the Industrial Council for Electronic and Electrical Equipment Recycling, a European cross-sector lobby group set up in response to the directive.

Currently in its third draft and due for official publication this month, the document requires manufacturers to cut their use of hazardous components in the production of electrical or electronic goods. It also pushes producers to take responsibility for the retrieval and recycling of goods sold into the domestic market.

The UK produces around one million tonnes of electrical and electronic goods every year, the bulk of which is made up of IT office equipment and large white goods, said Snow. "The key concern for manufacturers is how they are going to pay to collect the goods for recycling," she added.

"These costs will be phenomenal," agreed Tanya Berman, consultant at the Environmental Resource Management consultancy.

The directive would have a significant impact on procurement at BT, John Youé, the company's senior buyer of external networks materials, told a conference in London last week. "It will affect the way we negotiate contracts - we will have to introduce formal take-back clauses," he said.

Carl Mead, environmental research engineer at telecommunications supplier Nortel Networks, said the phasing out of chemicals deemed hazardous, such as lead, mercury and cadmium, would also create problems.

"We rely on lead soldering to finish components. Cutting it out would mean we would have to change our manufacturing process," he said.

The prospect of legislation and an internal environmental initiative were also pushing Nortel to develop product whole-life costing tools, he added. These would allow the company to predict the cost of recycling.

Although consumer demands and the pressure to gain ISO14001 accreditation were also forcing companies to make their supply chains green, Youé said there were significant financial incentives. "There are a lot of cuddly feelings about the environment, but it makes good sense from a business point of view, too."


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