The European Union has officially announced it is tightening the rules banning hazardous substances in electrical and electronics equipment — the environmental measure called RoHS. The revision extends the RoHS directive, which bans six hazardous substances in the EU, to include more electrical appliances. The ban will also now apply to all electrical and electronic equipment, as well as to cables and spare parts.
The revised law, adopted in late May, also requires the EU Commission to regularly review and adapt the list of restricted substances, which currently include lead, mercury, and cadmium. Further substances in electrical and electronic equipment may be banned in future.
According to an EU press release, measures taken within the European Parliament have ensured the adoption of this law. There are still a few steps to go, however: The revised directive still has to be published in the Official Journal of the EU, be transposed into EU member state laws within 18 months, and establish a time frame for industry implementation, according to Design Chain Associates, a manufacturing and environmental consulting firm.
Although RoHS has been in effect since 2005, the clarity of the rule has been a matter of ongoing debate. Certain categories of products are exempt from the ban under the original rule; the rule's language leaves room for interpretation as to which products are specifically excluded.
For the electronics industry, the biggest challenge of RoHS remains the ban of lead from electronics products. Lead historically has been the main component in electronics solders. Lead-solder substitutions don't perform as well as leaded, are more expensive than leaded solders, and require different equipment to achieve melting temperatures and to adhere to printed circuit boards. The industry has also long held that the amount of lead in electronics solders is so minuscule that the environmental impact is negligible.
Nevertheless, the global manufacturing industry has accepted RoHS, and countries outside the EU are adopting similar measures.