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Continental Divides

Another wave of environmental regulations is on the horizon and — not surprisingly — accelerating in markets targeted for significant growth in the electronics sector.

Specifically, India, Mexico and Brazil are drafting hazardous materials restrictions, e-waste laws, recycling initiatives, and energy conservation measures. While most of these laws are modeled on the familiar EU RoHS and WEEE regulations, they add to the patchwork of environmental laws causing headaches in the supply chain. (See: What You Need to Know Now About New Environmental Regulations.)

The challenge is not so much complying with the laws — it’s the paperwork that’s drowning the channel. Under the new (as well as old) regulations, many products must demonstrate environmental compliance with a label similar to the Energy Star designation. They may also require confirmation of UL– or CE-type audits. As Design Chain Associates' Ken Stanvick said on yesterday’s Webinar on the regulations, just finding room for all the labels on a product is going to be tough.

A few highlights of the regional specifics:

India. Revisions to India’s proposed regulations were issued Oct. 7, and the news is good: The scope of the laws is not as broad as originally planned. The original proposal would have required most, if not all, electronics products to comply with hazardous materials restrictions. The revisions narrow those categories down to IT, telecom equipment, and some consumer electronics such as TVs. DCA says the scope is now similar to RoHS, so manufacturers should have some familiarity with the guidelines. Action item: Within 60 days of promulgation of the law, manufacturers must obtain an authorization form that effectively allows them to continue to sell products in India.

Mexico. Mexico is focusing its efforts on energy efficiency. The country will issue a catalogue of some 180 products that must comply with its energy conservation standards. Action item: Mexico’s WEEE type initiative will contain provisions for waste created during the manufacturing of technology products. How this will be implemented is yet to be decided.

Brazil. The largest market for electronics products in South America is having the same problem as the US: inconsistency. Each of Brazil’s states is developing its own environmental and recycling regulations. Like the US, this could mean conflicting requirements, fees, and fines. Action item: Manufacturers planning to sell products in Brazil should check out each state’s requirements.

Unlike the US, however, Brazil is trying to harmonize the regulations under a single federal standard, says DCA's Stanvick. In the US, the Government Accountability Office has suggested that the EPA oversee a coordinated federal effort on e-waste and recommend action. The EPA is in the process of reviewing the GAO report. Updates will be issued when the EPA takes action.

Or rather if the EPA takes action. In the US, federal law vs. state laws is a hot-button issue. The same issue applies across countries and even continents: What governing body will impose environmental standards on others? I wonder if a standards organization comparable to the electronics industry’s IEEE or IPC could be formed to harmonize worldwide environmental laws. Any ideas?

6 comments on “Continental Divides

  1. bolaji ojo
    October 14, 2010

    It's time for global rules and regulations governing electronic production rather than the multiplying set of local, state, national and regional policies high-tech companies must now comply with. It's tough enough dealing with even one single nation's policies but complying with regulations from all over the world that may be completely different further complicates the business climate for companies. The reason for these rules and regulations is to improve and lessen the environmental footprint of high-tech goods and not to serve as punishment for being involved in the business.

    The industry needs to remind regulators that many companies now generate substantial portions of their sales outside of their home countries and that means they cannot afford to run afoul of laws that they may not even be aware of. The onus of ensuring compliance rests with companies but governments and regulators should not make this tough goal even more difficult. It's time for global environmental rules and a single transnational watchdog.

  2. Steve Saunders
    October 14, 2010

    “India. Revisions to India’s proposed regulations were issued Oct. 7, and the news is good: The scope of the laws is not as broad as originally planned. The original proposal would have required most, if not all, electronics products to comply with hazardous materials restrictions.”

    Ummmm…. not sure this is good news actually. Much of industrial India is a toxic sludge dump. Making all electonics comply with hazmat restirctions seems like a good idea to me, no?

  3. tioluwa
    October 15, 2010

    Like Bolaji said, to solution to these continental divides is Continental Bridges.

    If we have IEEE, ISO standards so such things as internet protocol, machine and equipment design, part specifications for specific environments, etc, then there is nothing wrong with having international standards for environmental issues, as a matter of fact, i wonder why there isn't any already.

    Environmental issues are universial, so why should there be state based laws.

    Member associations of manufactureres, and other important associations need to sit down and set at the least, a minimum requirement which will take care of major issues.

    I think that will make life easier for everyone and even make business easier too.

  4. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 21, 2010

    Ah. Good point. What's good for manufacturers isn't always what's good for the environment as we have seen too many times.

  5. Ariella
    October 22, 2010

    That's true, Barbara.  Concern with what's good for the environment has come to America's attention only relatively recently.  For example,The New York Botanical Garden has only started shifting over to flowers that will thrive without the aid of chemical sprays.  See http://www.nybg.org/sustainability/ What makes a garden green may not be consider “green” in the environmental sense. The gardenfeatures 19 of the 20 varieties of roses that have proved themselves “Earth-Kind” in Texas and are now conducting their own research for a four year period. You can read about that at http://www.gardeningonthemoon.com/2010/01/15/earth-kind-rose-a-what/ According to the guide to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, Germany already outlawed sprays 20 years ago, though in the US it appear to still be a voluntary movement. So standards, certainly, do vary around the globe even with respect to roses.  

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 22, 2010

    Thanks for that perspective! A British colleague of mine once suggested Europe and the U.K. were more progressive on controlling the environment and waste because they geographically are so much smaller than the U.S. and have less room to dump everything! (Of course, that doesn't explain China's problem with pollution.) Anyway, whether it is roses or regional square footage, somebody's got their eye on the ball.

    There is a compelling business argument for uniting standards under one organization. Companies (and gardeners) could spend much less time figuring out where and what they have to comply with and focus more on internal efforts toward green. Coming up with a lead-free solder took the electronics industry more than a decade and some of the industry's best talent was on that project.  Undoing the damage of DDT is still going on in the U.S. Imagine what we could have accomplished if we had banned substances our overseas colleagues banned decades ago!

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