VAT spat: Is a printed photo album really a book?

The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom reports a three-year battle with over whether a photo book is really a “book” may cost more than £1million in tax revenue after a bizarre three-year legal case over whether a printed photo-book of personal snaps is really a book.

A tax court has ruled HM Revenue & Customs should not have charged photo-processing firm Truprint £545,800 in value-added tax (VAT) for selling the printed and bound books of favorite pictures which can be ordered online. The albums have now been classified as books – meaning they should have been zero-rated.

“Tax bosses will have to repay the £545,800 to Truprint to cover the tax years 2006 to 2009. They must also repay their own and the company’s legal costs, totalling an estimated £500,000, plus additional VAT payments of tens of thousands of pounds made by Truprint to cover the period 2009 to 2011,” the report said.

Before Truprint took on the tax chiefs, the revenue officehad insisted photo-books were not the same as other books.

Once the electronic file is created, pages are printed and bound in the same way as book manufacturing. In a 19-page judgment last week, London VAT Tribunal Judge Roger Berner ruled the vast majority of Truprint’s photo-book products could be classed as books because there is content printed inside.

Truprint said its business and 350 jobs at its plant at Newton Abbot, Devon, had come under threat because of the burden of VAT payments. It claimed to have lost business to European rivals paying lower VAT rates.

In Compliance: Product Today, but a Waste Tomorrow

Several retailers have now learned a spilled bottle of bleach or a broken bag of fertilizer can suddenly become a hazardous waste and, thus, much more complicated to dispose of than simply cleaning up the mess and tossing it in the trash.

A recent announcement from several California district attorney offices’ identified Target Corp. as the latest large retailer to settle an improper waste disposal lawsuit by paying a healthy fine, which eventually will be split among several regulatory agencies in California.

In 2009, the retailer was sued for improperly handling and disposing of products damaged during shipping or stocking, removed because of being past the expiration date, or returned to the store by customers. The incident leading to the lawsuit was a 2002 fire in a trash compactor at a Sacramento County Target store. An investigation of that fire identified the problem to be incompatible chemicals mixed together inside the receptacle.

The settlement ends a lawsuit brought against the retail chain by 19 California district attorneys, the state attorney general, and the city attorneys in San Diego and Los Angeles. It alleged more than 240 Target stores throughout the state unlawfully disposed of various toxic wastes and other materials that included many harmful household chemicals, as well as batteries and electronics.

According to the Ventura County district attorney’s office, the investigation accused Target of disposing of its hazardous waste not only by tossing it in the dumpster but also allegedly dispensing it to local charities that, in turn, simply discarded it. The lawsuit accused Target of engaging in unlawful disposal practices to sidestep the cost of proper hazardous waste disposal, according to the district attorney’s office. In particular, the complaint cites an example in which employees at a store allegedly put ewaste in a trash compactor that was then taken by a garbage hauler not authorized to transport such materials to a destination not authorized to accept it.

The bottom line in all this is: To avoid being drug through the same dumpster on similar matters, put in place procedures in which spills, outdated product, and even returned product are properly characterized before simply being tossed in the trash. Although it might seem like just a bottle of bleach, once that material can no longer be sold, it essentially is a waste and must be treated as such.

In Compliance: New York electronic waste recycling program

The New York State Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act went into effect April 1. The new law establishes one of the most comprehensive electronic waste product stewardship programs in the country. The law also establishes ewaste recycling goals and requires manufacturers to recycle their share of the statewide goal, based on market share.

The law requires manufacturers who sell electronic equipment covered by the law in New York to register with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and establish a convenient program for the collection of electronic waste that is free of charge to all consumers, schools, governments, businesses with fewer than 50 employees, and not-for-profits with fewer than 75 employees. Registered manufacturers must also create a public education program to inform consumers about how to return products covered under the law.

Manufacturers are required to accept any electronic product they manufacture or an item of another manufacturer’s brand if offered to the consumer when purchasing the same type of electronic equipment. For example, if someone is buying a new computer that is a different brand than the one they currently own, the manufacturer must accept the old computer.

Consumers are defined as any individual, state agency, public corporation, public school, school district, private or parochial school, board of cooperative educational services, or governmental entity located in New York State, as well as businesses. Manufacturers may charge a fee for businesses with more than 50 full-time employees and not-for-profit corporations with more than 75 full-time employees.

The law also establishes a ban on disposal of ewaste; it will be phased in beginning April 1, 2011, for manufacturers, retailers, collection sites, and consolidation and recycling facilities. Beginning January 1, 2015, individuals and households will no longer be able to place or dispose of any electronic waste in a landfill or waste-to-energy facility or place electronic waste for collection that is intended for disposal at such types of facilities.

Other key items of the new law:

Each manufacturer is required to provide details of its electronic waste take-back program on its website, including how it will take back its brand of products, locations where electronic waste can be dropped off and recycled for free, or how to ship back equipment to the manufacturer — free of cost.

When purchasing new, covered electronic equipment, information on how the equipment can be recycled must be provided in the product manual or separately with the purchase.

With the new covered electronic equipment purchase, a manufacturer must accept a piece of electronic waste of ANY manufacturer’s brand if offered by the consumer with purchase of covered electronic equipment of the same type by the consumer.

For more information on the Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, including a specific list of which electronic devices are covered by the law, which manufacturers have collection plans in place, and links to their websites, please visit the DEC website.

— Environmental Resource Center, Tip of the Week

In Compliance: EPA seeks comments on electronic stewardship

In a March 1, Federal Register Notice, EPA, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced they are requesting stakeholder input to form a national framework for electronics stewardship that is being developed by the Interagency Task Force on Electronics Stewardship.

Businesses that manufacture, distribute, sell, label, certify, verify, refurbish, recycle, purchase, or use consumer, commercial, or industrial electronics or conduct research in any of these areas may be particularly interested in submitting comments since their businesses will likely be affected by the outcome of the national framework. Details for how comments will be received are available in the Federal Register Notice. The comment period deadline is March 11, 2011.

On Nov. 15, 2010, President Obama signed a presidential proclamation celebrating the strides the country has made in recycling, while also highlighting the need for greater attention on electronic waste management throughout the life cycle of a product. Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) chair Nancy Sutley established an interagency task force Nov. 8, 2010, to provide a national strategy and recommendations for areas of federal agency operational and managerial improvement associated with electronics stewardship. The task force is scheduled to deliver a national framework for electronics stewardship to CEQ by May 6, 2011.

In Compliance: EPA intercepts ewaste illegally en route to Vietnam

Metro Metals Corp. and Avista Recycling Inc. have been ordered to properly dispose of computer waste the companies attempted to illegally export from Minnesota to Vietnam through the Port of Seattle, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency is simultaneously seeking a $31,600 penalty against the companies for violating federal hazardous waste laws.

Metro Metals Corp., a Toronto, Canada-based company, and Avista Recycling Inc., a recycling company operating in Hopkins, Minn., arranged for the export of a shipment of 913 discarded computer monitors to Vietnam Dec. 6, 2010. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted the shipment, which had been incorrectly identified in shipping paperwork as “scrap plastic,” at the Port of Seattle for inspection before it could leave the United States.

“Companies collecting discarded cathode ray tubes must be held accountable to manage these wastes in compliance with our laws, which ensure they will be properly handled and not sent abroad to countries that have not agreed to receive waste from the United States,” says Edward Kowalski, EPA director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle.

Some televisions and computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs). Color computer CRT monitors contain an average of four pounds of lead. CRTs may also contain mercury, cadmium, and arsenic.

EPA alleges the companies violated several federal hazardous waste management requirements designed to ensure the proper management and transport of such wastes. First, the companies failed to evaluate their waste and identify it as hazardous. They also failed to manifest the waste or comply with other pre-transit requirements for such shipments. Even more important, the companies failed to notify EPA of their intent to export the waste to Vietnam and, consequently, attempted to bypass the process required for Vietnam to consent to receive hazardous wastes from the United States before it can leave the country.