Businesses are already having to find ways to claw back the heavy costs of recycling, even though the precise terms of the WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment) directive are still being debated by the European Commission.

Under the terms of the directive, manufacturers will be responsible for the safe disposal of their customers' outdated machines — and it looks likely to be an expensive process.

Consumers, meanwhile, fear these recycling costs will be reflected in the purchase price of equipment.

"While HP will take every step to ensure minimum costs to the consumer, everyone has a role to play in taking responsibility for the lifetime of electronic equipment from the original manufacturer to the consumer," said an HP spokesman.

HP will be not be introducing 'take-back' fees, where companies disclose a standard cost for collecting and recycling the product along with its price. Instead, it will incorporate the cost for each product into the initial purchase price.

But it is not only large manufacturers and consumers that will feel the brunt of the directive.

Companies of every size will be responsible for the safe disposal of their PC equipment — a cost that could be removed by simply passing machines on to charities.

"End-of-life PCs are worthless to most companies, but invaluable to school children," said Tony Roberts, director of Computer Aid International. His charity sends unwanted PCs to schools and community groups for worthwhile projects overseas.

"Companies have written down the value of their redundant computers to nil and all they see is a headache in getting rid of their old PCs," added Roberts.

Another option for companies is a leasing agreement which allows them to transfer their responsibilities under the directive to their IT rental firm.

"It makes better business sense to get access to the latest technology through the services of a rental provider. Companies can concentrate on their core activities without the burden of managing and paying for the disposal of redundant systems," said Nick Grainger, director of computer leasing firm Livingston UK.
The WEEE directive is expected to be in force across Europe by 2005.