The forthcoming European Commission WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) Directive, which demands the safe disposal of electrical equipment, will on the whole be good news for consumers but may provide some costly challenges for small businesses.

The directive makes all producers, defined as anyone who manufactures and sells or resells electrical equipment under their own brand, responsible for the safe recycling of its equipment.

Consumers will be entitled to call on producers to collect used goods for recycling, meaning manufacturers will have to arrange for their effective collection.

The only real worry for consumers is that the extra costs incurred by manufacturers may be reflected in an increase in the purchase price of those goods, but this is only speculation.

In a bid to encourage businesses to comply with the directive, the Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (Icer) has launched an accreditation scheme.

"The scheme came about due to calls from recyclers and people who use recycling services who wanted to know if there was any form of self-regulation," said Claire Snow, director of Icer. "The draft directive, in July 1999, said recycling had to be carried out by 'approved recyclers' and people just didn't know what these were."

The scheme, the first of its kind, is hoped to raise current recycling standards before the implementation of the directive, which comes into effect next summer.

"Recyclers will have to prove that they operate to the best environmental and safety practice," said Snow.

But there is still a worry that some companies may not be fully aware of their obligations under the WEEE Directive.

"None of us really know the directive's implications," said Snow. "Even the government doesn't know how it's going to be implemented. So there's still a lot that needs to be done."

Larger corporations seem fairly clued up as to what their new responsibilities are and have the resources to implement the directive.

"Everybody has to come together on this to create effective solutions before the actual directive is implemented," said computer manufacturer Tiny's Alison Boswell.

Smaller companies, however, perhaps do not know about the directive and may be the ones which are hit hardest financially.

"Small companies will fall under the category of producer and it is therefore up to them to make arrangements with their suppliers about how to implement their obligations," said a spokesperson at the Department of Trade and Industry.

But this is news to some small firms. "You mean we are responsible for recycling? No one told us about that, but then small companies are always the last to know," said a rather confused spokesperson at Computer Xchange, a hardware retailer.

But for companies to sign up to the scheme before they are forced to there needs to be something in it for them.

"Once the directive comes into force if a company has not been accredited a responsible recycler, whether through our scheme or through its own means, and does not meet the minimum standards required, then it will simply be put out of business," said Snow.

But how it is going to be enforced, according to the DTI, is one of the issues still being discussed in the run-up to its implementation.

"It is most likely that companies that refuse to comply will find themselves with hefty fines," said a DTI spokesperson. "If companies still haven't meet the standards by the January 2006 deadline then they will no doubt face tougher consequences."

The scheme, which will be overseen by an independent board, will give guidance to companies on how to safely dispose of electrical goods and companies that comply with the guidelines will be awarded an 'Icer Accredited Mark'.

If any company is interested in the voluntary scheme they should send an email to [email protected]