Einstein's theory of relativity is alive and well in the electronics industry. The action: The EU's version of the Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) is approaching clarity. The reaction: India's version of RoHS appears to be as clear as mud. The EU has officially adopted a revised RoHS which clarifies a number of issues pertaining to the measure and bans six substances from electronics products sold in Europe. (See: Revised RoHS Directive Adopted in EU.)
Under the original version, the scope of products that were required to comply with RoHS left a lot of room for interpretation. The revision tightens those loopholes. Additionally, the EU revision specifies that cables and various attachments to electrical and electronics equipment must also comply with the law, which bans substances such as lead, mercury, and cadmium from electronics products sold in the EU.
India's version, which is moving closer toward its May 2012 implementation, limits the use of 20 substances from electronics products sold in India. Global distributor element14 , which provides updates and analysis of global environmental legislation, has posted a summary of India's RoHS on its Website. According to element14, the proposals on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) disposal:
- do not say whether these substances are restricted or that manufacturers should attempt to avoid them
- do not state whether the threshold values refer to the concentrations in the finished product, in homogeneous materials or something else
- provide no exemptions or any mechanism for requesting exemptions
- lack clarity of limits.
Inconsistencies among global environmental laws are an ongoing concern in the electronics industry, which has had to greatly modify is processes and materials to meet RoHS requirements. The ban of lead from solders used in manufacturing has been particularly irksome because non-leaded substitutes don't perform as well as leaded.
Some of the next set of challenges noted by element14: India's proposal requires that medical equipment adhere to the ban, while the EU version currently does not. India's RoHS also bans substances (including some flame retardants) that have no viable alternatives currently available.
Similar to the EU legislation, India will require manufacturers and importers to supply only “RoHS-compliant” products and to provide written documentation supporting compliance. This has also been an ongoing struggle in the electronics supply chain -- documenting compliance often requires the disclosure of information that component makers regard as proprietary.
There's no question that electronics manufacturers will adhere to these measures. The industry has, with some difficulty, complied with the EU's RoHS. Within the past two years, China has passed its version of RoHS; now, so has India. The EU is an important but relatively small market for electronics manufacturers. China and India, on the other hand, are considered the two largest markets for electronics products in the world.
Either electronics manufacturers come up with new ways to build their products and keep users safe, or a race to develop new flame retardants is on.