EU Begins Ban on Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Products
July 7, 2006
The ban includes four heavy metals and two groups of brominated flame retardants that pose a direct risk to workers' health when waste electrical and electronic equipment is recycled and can be released into the environment when such waste is incinerated or disposed of in landfill dumps.
Producers have had over three years to prepare for this ban that addresses the problem of "e-waste," the fastest growing type of waste in Europe.
This EU initiative has been closely followed by public authorities in some third countries, with China, a leading producer of electrical and electronic equipment, intending to introduce similar legislation next year.
European Commission (EC) Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "This ban has a double benefit for human health and the environment. Ending the use of these hazardous substances in many e-products not only removes the intrinsic hazard they pose but will also enable us to considerably increase the amount of waste equipment that is recycled by making this activity safer and also less costly. I welcome China's plans to follow Europe's example and would encourage other countries to do likewise."
The six hazardous substances being banned are the heavy metals lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium, as well as two groups of brominated flame retardants - polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). All have severe adverse effects on human health and the environment.
Lead and mercury, for example, can affect the brain and nervous system and are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. They also accumulate in living organisms and the environment. Brominated flame retardants can harm the human reproductive system, may be transformed into highly toxic compounds in the body and may cause tumours. They are toxic in aquatic environments, where they also accumulate and persist rather than breaking down into harmless compounds.
The substances ban is the central measure in the so-called "restrictions on hazardous substances (RoHS)" directive (directive 2002/95), which was adopted in 2003 by the Council of Ministers and European Parliament together with - and as a complement to - the directive on waste from electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), directive 2002/96.
The WEEE directive, which became effective last year, sets targets for the collection of e-waste in each member state as well as for recycling it or recovering energy. Ending the use of the banned substances through the RoHS directive will help ensure that e-waste can be dismantled and recycled safely. For example, lead is no longer used in most solders for printed circuit boards and has been replaced to a great extent by safer materials such as tin.
The range of equipment covered by the hazardous substances ban is broad, potentially running to thousands of individual products that use electricity. The product categories include large and small household appliances, IT and telecommunications equipment (including personal computers and mobile phones), electrical and electronic tools, toys, lighting equipment, automatic dispensers and leisure and sports equipment.
All member states have transposed the RoHS directive into their national legislation. Industry has been actively involved in its implementation, with many companies having already begun in the 1990s to remove the targeted hazardous substances.
In addition to producers and suppliers around the world, many public authorities in third countries have taken an active interest in the RoHs directive. Besides China's plans, there are indications that Japan and South Korea may also follow the EU legislation.
Further information on the RoHS and WEEE directives is available on the EU web portal on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment.
Source: European Commission.