The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations 2005 would, it was promised, be a milestone in reducing pollution associated with IT. Manufacturers and retailers would be made responsible for recycling hazardous material. The impact on high street chemists was not, however, immediately apparent.
Indeed the significance of the regulations has been clouded by the lack of clarity from the British government as to when the rules come into force. That does not, however, mean that British companies are immune from the effects of the legislation.
Pharmaceutical retail giant Boots has become the first company to be fined under the regulations (albeit it was an Irish division that flouted the rules).
Boots is not exactly renowned as a manufacturer of electronic equipment – although on the retail side its own brand electric toothbrushes are in all probability very good. Even so, it is something of a surprise that Boots was caught out by the new regulations.
The company fell victim to the rules through its failure to provide a specific in-store notice alerting customers to the fact that its prices include a contribution to the product recycling fund, set up to ensure that WEEE is collected and recycled in a responsible manner.
And it is hard to argue with Gerry Byrne, programme manager, for the Irish Environmental Protection Agency when he says: “Failing to comply with the regulations puts compliant retailers at a competitive disadvantage.”
But the Boots case highlights how regulations intended to stop big polluters of the environment can be used against all manner of businesses.