By John Gyorki, Editorial Director
When it comes to environmentally friendly policies related to the electronic industry, the European Union (EU) leads the way with its RoHS (Restrictions on Hazardous Substances) and WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directives. These policies changed the traditional design, manufacturing, distribution, and disposal procedures for electrical and electronic products. Both directives became European Union law in 2003, but the implementation by the member states took considerable time and effort.
The RoHS Directive (2002/95/EC) went into effect on July 1, 2006 and is aimed at eliminating or drastically reducing certain substances in electrical and electronic products sold in the European Union. The controlled substances include cadmium, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.
The majority of electrical and electronic components available in the US today are lead-free and RoHS compliant. Many tin-lead components are still available to satisfy the needs of manufacturers producing equipment for domestic US markets that did not yet change to lead-free components and soldering equipment. However non-RoHS compliant parts are becoming increasingly difficult to find and are not recommended for new designs.
The WEEE Directive (2002/96/EC) covers disposal of electrical and electronic equipment sold in the EU. It went into effect on August 13, 2005 and deals with consumer education, product marking, collection, and proper disposal at the end of its useful life. The directive places financial responsibility for the collection, disassembly, recovery, and environmentally responsible disposal on the equipment manufacturer.
Manufacturers are required to set up programs in Europe to collect products from consumers, disassemble the products, and reuse or recycle as many parts as possible. To make this program successful, products should be designed for ease of disassembly, recyclable materials should be used as much as possible, plastic parts should be marked to help identify the type of plastic, and disassembly procedures should be developed. The disassembly facilities can be owned by the manufacturer, product distributor, or operated by a third party contractor.
The majority, but not all electrical and electronic products are included in WEEE. Annexes IA and IB list the categories and specific kinds of electrical and electronic equipment covered by this directive. There are several exceptions, and to make things more complicated, the WEEE requirements vary from country to country. So it is important for the manufacturers to follow the exact implementation of the directive adopted by the EU country to which the product will be exported.
The European Commission‚â€™s WEEE site (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee) contains the RoHS and WEEE legislation, studies, events,and contacts in each country. The US Department of Commerce website (www.buyusa.gov/europeanunion) also has a lot of up-to-date information on RoHS and WEEE. Major distributors of electrical and electronic components maintain RoHS and WEEE pages on their websites. In addition, several service providers offer RoHS and WEEE consulting services and can help jump start the compliance process.
Filed Under: Commentary • expert insight, Green engineering