Electronic Design

The EU's Effect On Green Design

It has been just over a year since the industry had to formally adopt the European Union’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives. Other countries, including China and Korea, have come up with their own versions of RoHS since then, forcing much of the industry to scramble to first understand and then meet their requirements.

Unlike the EU’s RoHS, China RoHS requires the marking and certification of electronic information products. China RoHS also calls for tracking the compliance status of each part and the potentially tedious task of testing every product in one of China’s 18 authorized labs.

Korea’s Act Concerning the Resource Recycling of Electrical/Electronic Products and Automobiles is wide-ranging, with elements of the EU’s RoHS. It covers anything electronic, but leaves out important details on materials, exemptions, and the scope of products covered under the law.

Canada’s Designing for the Environment, recently published by Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (EPSC), represents the work of 21 of the country’s leading electronics manufacturers on environmental issues.

“We know that Canadians increasingly prefer to purchase products that are easier to recycle at the end of their life and create less of an impact on the environment throughout their life cycle,” says Jay Illingworth, EPSC’s vice president. “Our companies have responded by investing significantly in the environmental performance of their products, from initial research and development through to manufacturing and marketing.”

Meanwhile, the RoHS and its Waste Electrical and Electronic (WEEE) directives have already forced industry companies to redesign most of its products, and the EU continues to tweak these and other emerging directives to meet changes in the industry and technology.

Apparently in response to these concerns, the EU in April hired research teams from Environmental Consultancy and Assistance (ECOLAS) and Risk & Policy Analysis (RPA) to conduct studies on both directives. The research started with two questionnaires that address RoHS and WEEE and their impact on the electronics industry.

The study on RoHS will try to quantify the economic and environmental impacts of the RoHS directive through a cost/benefit analysis. It will focus, along with other issues, on compliance costs and benefits and the technical costs of RoHS. The WEEE study will assess the impact of the directive on innovation and competition.

Additionally, the United Nations is launching its own global initiative to reduce electronic waste. Known as Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP), the program will focus on eliminating lead, arsenic, antimony trioxide, polybrominated flame retardants, selenium, cadmium, and mercury. The U.N. program is expected to be built largely around the language of the EU’s WEEE directive. Dell, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft have already signed on to the program.

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