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Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS)

What a Tangled Web We Weave ......

Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) concerns legislation (aka directive 2002/95/EC) intimately connected with Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). The origin of these entwined legislations lies with the European Union in its Directive which became European law on 13th February 2003 and declared that member states must implement the directives by 13th August 2004, The UK government failed to meet this deadline and no doubt came under considerable pressure to delay its introduction from interested parties (some of whom probably didn't know that they were interested until reality dawned); the DTI was heavily involved. As consequence the government's initiation of the RoHS ban was delayed successively for nearly two years to July 2006 and full producer responsibility for the costs of treating household WEEE until 1 July 2007.

If you are reading this the odds are you're looking for a brief summary and that is all we can claim to try and do. Having looked through countless references in the evolution towards implementation we nearly gave up. The large volumes of bureaucratic-speak and legalese don't make for easy reading and we have to disclaim clearly any special expertise in this area. If you think you might be involved in the consequences of the legislation we believe it is imperative to seek informed professional advice or at least to purchase and study texts written or edited by writers with experience and specialist knowledge. Immediately though, here are a few simple notes on the topics.

To What and Whom does the RoHS Directive Apply?
RoHS is a European directive and it applies to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) within the European market place. So anyone trading in EEE within the market must be prepared to comply even though they may be based outside the zone. While the original emphasis was placed on manufacturers the term 'producers' is more relevant. A producer can be a manufacturer and seller of EEE, but he could also be a reseller of EEE using his own brand or a professional who imports or exports EEE into a member State, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein. The directive applies to these producers of EEE.

  What are these 'Certain' Hazardous Substances?
This bit is straight forward, they are: lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), hexavalent chromium (Cr VI), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). The latter two are manufactured compounds used as flame retardants in plastics used in a variety of domestic objects including computers, TVs, furniture (hard and soft), stereos etc (but note RoHS applies only to EEE). They are regarded as being harmful to the environment and endanger the health of wildlife and probably humans. The four metals are very toxic to fauna, as discussed elsewhere on this site, and have historically been used widely. Lead is ubiquitous in EEE, having been an alloy in most solders from ever. To identify a few examples for the others: mercury is used in some lamps and certain electrical switches; cadmium is a valuable alloying metal for copper, a metal plating material and has long been used in batteries; and chromium VI is widely used to prevent corrosion in iron-based alloys.
All of these must be absent from EEE or, if present, reduced below a specified concentration. Broadly, the limit is 0.01% by weight in homogenous materials.

Are there exclusions to RoHS?
Yes, quite a few applications were recognised or subsequently negotiated as qualifying for exclusion. The definitions of which types are excepted from the RoHS ban are complex and doubtless will be a moving target for some time to come. There are some over-arching exceptions such as equipment using voltages in excess of 1,500 V dc or 1,000 V ac and large-scale stationary
industrial tools. Otherwise it seems to us that the exceptions are allowed where there are no alternative substances, where alternative substances are clearly too costly, where security (national, military or functional) is key to the role of the components or devices and where reliability depends uniquely on the presence of the substances.
Some examples for exclusions applied to lead are: high melting point solders used in chip manufacture, networks and servers, in piezoelectronic devices and in glass of cathode ray tubes and in electronic components and fluorescent tubes where its presence gives strength.
For mercury: certain types of fluorescent lamps and other specialist lamps.
For cadmium: plating for electrical contacts.
For hexavalent chromium: as an anti-corrosion of the carbon steel cooling
system in absorption refrigerators having special applications.
The above examples are only identified to give a flavour of the small print. Below is a decision tree transcribed, with minor changes, from Annex B of the Government Guidance Notes on RoHs regulations, Consultation Draft, July 2004. This gives a much better insight as to what might be included within the scope of RoHS. However, some questions are not fully answered and under no circumstances should the information be considered as definitive. Producers should rely on independent legal advice on compliance.

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Which Products are Included or Excluded from the Scope of RoHS?
Does product operate at less than 1,000V ac or 1.500V dc?
No >
If 'Yes' go down to next question
Does the product fall within one of the eight categories in the table below?
Large household appliances
Small household appliances
IT & Telecomms equipment
Consumer equipment
Lighting equipment
Electrical & electronic tools
Toys, leisure & sports equipment
Automatic dispensers
No >
If 'Yes' go down to next question
Is the product covered by one of the four specific exemptions as in the table below?
Large-scale stationary industrial tool
Spare parts for repair, capacity expansion or upgrade of EEE on market prior to July 2006
Exemptions listed in Annex 'C'
Other specific exemptions currently under review
Yes >
If 'No' go down to next question
Is product for specific national security and/or military purpose?
Yes >
If 'No' go down to next question
Is the main power source electricity?
No >
If 'Yes' go down to next question
Is electricity needed for its primary function?
No >
If 'Yes' go down to next question
Does it form part of equipment not included in the product categories above?
Yes >
If 'No', then it is included within the scope of the directive

Are there Sanctions in the UK for Non-compliance?
There certainly are. If a producer is believed to be breaching the directive, that person can be ordered to produce a report in defence, showing, for example, that compliance has in fact been met or maybe that it is someone else's fault or that he's very sorry and won't do it again. In the event of non-compliance and conviction a regulated fine can be imposed. The precise legal minutia may differ in different countries within the UK.

What are the Costs and Benefits of Introducing the New Legislation?
To be brief, the aggregated financial costs will be enormous; but the environmental benefits will also be very great. Exact financial costs will not be known until the system is fully operational and even then, no doubt, there will still be hidden expenses not accounted for. To be fair to our bureaucrats a lot of time and effort has been put into analysing where the costs will occur, the magnitudes and knock-on effects where, for example, enterprises may cease to be viable with the new regulatory burdens.
So how much will it cost? You don't really expect a pat answer, do you? The best we can offer are UK figures based on a DTI consultation report on the Regulatory Impact Assessment of implementing RoHS (Part VII, RoHS, RIA, July 2004). They loudly proclaim that it is impossible to quantify the figures accurately. Their best guesstimates for Capital and Operating costs (for the first ten years after the Directive is implemented) range from £105 million to £126 million per year.
Research and Development costs are less precise and most are attributable to the restrictions on the use of lead. They are between £170 million and £330 million per year (up to the date the Directive is implemented). Interestingly, despite the dominance of lead as a factor in this context, EEE only accounts for a small proportion of the overall consumption of lead in the UK.
It should be noted that these costs are in addition to other expenditures in implementing the WEEE directive.
As for the benefits, they are mainly environmental and really these can't be quantified, but by no means should they be underestimated; it is a desirable trade-off. There are some financial benefits, for example reduced operating costs for implementing WEEE, and a healthier society will be less expensive to maintain and individuals should be more productive.
As an adjunct there are new industries in the making. The technical legalities have spawned a new enterprise of consultants to help producers comply with the complex regulations. New test instruments have been developed and are being sold, which can analyse products to see if they contain allowable amounts of the restricted materials.

Is the RoHS ban going to be a Regulatory Nightmare?
For some, it will be. Small enterprises who are 'producers' of EEE within the Single Market will be particularly vulnerable. If their products require that they need to carry out R & D to adapt it will be particularly hard for them to cope. Also they will be hardest hit in dealing with the bureaucracy (familiarisation and paperwork) to achieve compliance with all the extra regulations.
The UK government has to some extent tried to anticipate the additional regulatory burden placed on businesses. The Better Regulation Commission was formed and has adopted the slogan Less is More. At the request of the UK PM they have looked at a methodology to reduce the burden of bureaucracy on enterprises. The principles investigated and recommended include the new Dutch approach of introducing a target for reducing administrative costs to reduce paperwork and a 'One in, One out' rule where new regulations have to be matched by deregulatory measures. We hope that these techniques are applied to good effect.

Electrical and electronic equipment has developed to include some toxic materials which are dangerous if released into the environment. The EU has taken steps to protect the environment by introducing controls at the point of manufacture to minimise the amount of certain hazardous substances appearing in EEE in the Single Market. This action is defined in the RoHS directive.
At the same time there is another linked control aimed at apportioning responsibility for the eventual safe and economic disposal of EEE waste. This action is defined in the WEEE directive. The two are inextricably entwined.
The environmental benefits should be considerable but at the same time the costs will be very substantial. Some costs are easily observed but others are only felt indirectly. Environmentalists, and others, will feel the price is worth it.
The responsibilities for RoHS are laid at the door of manufacturers although some equipment assemblers and entrepreneurs are included so that the term 'producers' is more appropriate. These producers are left with the problem of most of the cost of compliance but no doubt the lion's share of this will be passed on to the consumers indirectly.
The legislation is enshrined in legal definitions, conditions and caveats and consequently will prove quite burdensome, especially to small enterprises.

Also see our reference page on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment



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Originated: 3 February, 2006. Last amended: 7 May, 2013