You know you’re behind the curve when Wal-Mart says it’s on top of the European Union’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) program and you’re not. With less than four months to go before the July 1, 2006 deadline for RoHS compliance, Wal-Mart has partnered with Toshiba America Information Systems to develop what it calls the first RoHS-compliant laptops available in U.S. retail channels.
There is no legislative requirement in the United States for manufacturers to achieve RoHS-level compliance. Yet Wal-Mart is encouraging computer suppliers to restrict the quantities of hazardous materials in their products, including lead, cadmium, mercury, and other substances identified in the RoHS directive. Toshiba’s Tecrra A6, A7, and M5 laptops and Portege M400 tablet PC are the first results of these efforts.
“Collaborating with Toshiba to make \[these computers\] available is a direct outcome of the work of our collaborative Sustainable Value Networks, which brings together Wal-Mart, environmental organizations, suppliers, and other thought leaders from government and academia to find ways to incorporate sustainability into the supply chain,” says John Kooy, Wal-Mart’s vice president of electronics.
Particularly bothersome to many executives is the lack of federal legislation covering hazardous materials used in the electronics industry. Without such legislation, the states have had to develop their own laws, most of which focus on the recycling of electronic waste. Currently, there are 19 bills in play in eight states. At least three states have passed e-waste laws.
California’s law covering e-waste is the broadest, and the state has said that it would adopt further legislation if necessary to match the requirements of the EU’s RoHS directive. Meanwhile, the Consumer Electronics Association and its vendor members, facing the prospect of designing and producing products that meet the environmental requirements of 50 different states, have been actively lobbying for all-encompassing federal legislation.
Raymond Communications, which tracks industry environmental activities, suggests in a recent report that as more states introduce e-waste legislation with advance recycling fees and extended producer responsibility, “national legislation will have to come into the mix to attempt to straighten it out.”
Even with all the publicity given RoHS, the hundreds of live and online seminars and conferences dedicated to the EU’s emerging environmental restrictions, and pressure from distributors for their client vendors and customers to take RoHS seriously, many companies—particularly smaller ones—still haven’t taken all the necessary steps to become RoHS-compliant. These companies may not be able to do business in any of the 25 EU countries beginning in July. They also may face heavy fines if they ship non-RoHS compliant products into the EU after July 1.
Paul Tallentire, president of small-quantity components and test equipment distributor Newark InOne, says at least 60 percent of his vendor base “still doesn’t have its act together” and is lagging behind in supplying his company and, ultimately, the end customer with RoHS-compliant products.
Awareness of the legislation is no longer the issue. Now, it’s more about knowing how to respond to the RoHS directive. And it can be difficult. “There is still plenty of confusion in both the customer and supply base in terms of requirements—what needs to be done,” says Bill Hanna, hardware quality and RoHS transition manager for Agilent Technologies’ Engineering Services.
One part of the process that continues to be confusing is that other countries are adopting their own environmental legislation with similar, although not literally identical, language in their environmental legislation. (Agilent, for one, has been lobbying China for its directive to be more in lock-step with the EU in its environmental laws.)
At the same time, the EU and its national member countries continue to be flooded with requests for exemptions, and many of these are still in debate. But even industry sectors and companies that already have been designated as exempt, such as medical instrumentation, eventually will feel the impact of RoHS legislation when the components they’re currently using to build their products—components that aren’t RoHS compliant—become obsolete.
At least one element of this controversial legislation seems to have been solved. Much of the industry has been in limbo over the lack of materials standards for documenting and communicating the content of RoHS-ready components. In February, the IPC (Association Connecting Electronics Industries) standards organization approved IPC 1751 (Generic Requirements for Declaration Process Management) and IPC 1752 (Materials Declaration Management). The documents are significant because EU countries have said they will require more than simple certificates of compliance to indicate that OEMs have taken all reasonable measures to comply with RoHS.