issue: March 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine
A Double Dose of RoHS
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by Tim Somheil, Editor
RoHS goes into effect in July. If your products are not compliant by then, they can’t be sold in the European Union.
The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive has been on the books for years, and there has been much work done to prepare for it. But not enough work has been done by some members of the appliance industry or by some suppliers to the industry. Not enough work has been done by the European Union bodies and nations that govern and transpose RoHS to make the directive reasonably understandable or even consistent throughout the EU. Major questions remain unanswered and new complexities are emerging, just a few months before compliance is required.
If you’re not RoHS-compliant, your time is running out faster than you may know. The language of RoHS requires that all appliances placed on the market by July 1, 2006 satisfy the directive. This requires a different kind of planning than, for example, the U.S. air-conditioner energy efficiency standards that went into effect in January. The U.S. standard mandated compliance at the manufacturing level by the due-date, and in fact created a surge in orders for lower-cost, lower-efficiency air-conditioners that are still in inventory and still being sold.
Enforcement is one of the unknown factors in the coming RoHS era. Enforcement responsibility rests in the hands of the individual countries. Will there be RoHS police who actually go out and buy products and have them tested for the restricted substances? Or will enforcement come only when a complaint is raised about a specific product? It’s likely enforcement methods will run the gamut between these extremes among the EU member states. Even major questions about testing have yet to be clarified—and the confusion is causing some frustration among companies that are trying their best to comply.
Wayne Morris, vice president, Division Services for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), says the testing of hexavalent chromium, one of the substances limited by RoHS, is one such unresolved issue. “Will Europe recognize the ISO standard for testing for hexavalent chromium or will they insist on another standard? We still don’t know,” he tells APPLIANCE.
Hexavalent chromium has been useful. Often it is applied in an extremely thin coating on steel before paint or another coating is applied. It helps prevent corrosion, even if the top coat is scratched.
“There are a number of alternatives to hexavalent chromium, but none of them have been as fully tested,” Morris points out. “They all have some different characteristics and unanswered questions. Do they work as well as hexavalent chromium to prevent corrosion in an environment where they’re exposed to salt spray? Do they work as well in dry environments? There are many aspects of the alternatives that will need a lot of time and testing to learn—and there’s not much time left until RoHS is here.”
What Does “Put on the Market” Mean?
Appliance producers will have to have RoHS-compliant product ready well in advance of the effective date. On the effective date, every non-RoHS-compliant appliance left in your manufacturing warehouse is illegal for sale in the EU.
As explained by CECED, the European household appliance industry association, and according to existing EU legislation and practice, a product is deemed “put on the market” when it is made available for the first time on the EU market. Since it is the appliance manufacturer (or importer) that places the product on the EU market, the directive makes the manufacturer (or importer) the entity holding legal responsibility for RoHS compliance.
But in January of this year, CECED said that manufacturers may not be legally responsible for RoHS compliance in some EU member states after all. It appears that, as the Directive was transposed into national legislation, some member states—intentionally or unintentionally—specified that products must comply with the requirements when “sold to the
consumer,” when “distributed within the country,” when “held for commercial purposes,” or when “imported into the country from another EU member state.”
“In addition to the practical problems retailers and shops will encounter in Belgium, Ireland, Latvia, Slovakia, Portugal, and Spain, this represents a barrier to trade and will severely disrupt the single market, without bringing about any environmental benefit,” said a CECED spokesperson.
Unfortunately, all the unnecessary bureaucratic complexities are not going to provide appliance companies a good excuse if they’re not ready on July 1. “Inevitably, there will be appliance companies within Europe and outside Europe that find themselves unprepared,” Morris of AHAM tells APPLIANCE.
It might even be that some appliance OEMs are banking on a delay or grace period in the enforcement of RoHS. After all, the other big environmental initiative in Europe, the Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, will be delayed, maybe by as much as 2 years. Why not RoHS?
Both WEEE and RoHS were agreed upon simultaneously, on Feb. 13, 2003. WEEE aims to minimize the environmental impact of electrical/electronic equipment, including appliances, at their end-of-life. WEEE puts the responsibility for the collection and recycling of these products on the producer of the product, and lets EU appliance consumers return their products, without charge, for recycling.
RoHS will probably not be forestalled, and the reason is simply that compliance is so much easier for the countries involved, unlike the in-country preparation needed on the scale of WEEE.
“The WEEE Directive requires an entire infrastructure be established in each of the EU countries—and even in the cities and the counties—to deal with the issues of collection and recycling,” notes Morris of AHAM. “But the responsibility for adhering to the RoHS directive is almost entirely on the shoulders of the product manufacturers and their suppliers, not the government. There is very little for the government to do.”
Still, Morris feels that most of the appliance companies that sell products in Europe will be ready on time to meet the directive. For those of you that aren’t, read Seven Steps Toward RoHS Compliance in this issue of APPLIANCE magazine.
And get to work.