Enhesa - Global EHS & Product Compliance Assurance

New EU RoHS finally here – significant changes for EEE on the horizon


After three years of debate, the revised RoHS Directive (65/2011/EU) has finally been adopted by the European Parliament and the Council resulting in significant changes  for electrical and electronic equipment.

In 2008, the European Commission launched the review of the related directives of WEEE, addressing  the collection and recycling of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), and RoHS, addressing the restriction of certain hazardous substances in such equipment. The European Commission underlined that despite existing rules, it was found that only one third of WEEE was separately collected and treated. While the revised RoHS Directive was published in July, the WEEE Directive review has not yet been concluded due to a lack of agreement between the Parliament and the Member States on several issues such as the definition of a WEEE producer or the introduction of the 65% WEEE collection target.

So what innovations are on the way in the revised RoHS?

The changes made by the reviewed RoHS Directive will progressively take effect until 2019 when all types of EEE are to be RoHS-compliant. The basic requirement of RoHS, applicable since 1 July 2006, is the absence of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), unless specifically exempted, in eight categories of EEE such as large and small household appliances, IT equipment, toys or electrical tools. When the revised RoHS Directive enters into force, the heavy metal ban will now apply not only continue to apply to these eight categories but also now apply (over a phase in period) to medical devices and monitoring and control instruments (from 2014), in vitro diagnostic medical devices (from 2016), and industrial monitoring and control instruments (from 2017). However, one of the biggest changes is the addition of an 11th category of EEE defined as all types of EEE. This additional category intends to cover all types of EEE not only  cables and spare parts but also all future innovative technologies not yet foreseen or covered by one of the 10 existing categories. This last category must be compliant starting in 2019.

The revised RoHS Directive also changes the definition of what is electrical and electronic equipment under the above mentioned categories. The old RoHS Directive only considered ‘equipment dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly’ as EEE. The revised RoHS Directive appears to be more comprehensive and includes any product with an electrical or electronic component used to fulfill one of its intended purposes. However, the interpretation of this provision might give Member States difficulties in enforcing the Directive: will an electrical and electronic accessory to a non-EEE product be sufficient to turn the whole product as EEE?

One topic that Enhesa is watching very closely with regard to the RoHS Directive relates to expanding the number of hazardous substances restricted by RoHS. An immediate ban on several substances was first introduced in the draft, concerning substances such as PVC or halogenated flame retardants. Due to a lack of agreement, the European Parliament Rapporteur suggested the introduction of a priority list of hazardous substances for future inclusion in the RoHS Directive. Arsenic compounds or REACH Substances of Very High Concern (SVHC) were considered for inclusion on the list. The Members of the European Parliament also separately considered a ban on nanosilver and long multi-walled carbon nanotubes in EEE. In the end, the agreement resulted in no change to the banned substances with a promise to review the list in the next three years.

Nanoparticles may be a particular focus of this review as a result of concerns that they may be hazardous due to properties relating to their size or structure.

Similarly to the substances covered by the RoHS Directive, the minimum allowed concentration of hazardous substances remains unchanged at 0.1% by weight in homogeneous materials of EEE (with the exception of 0.001% for cadmium); however,  the exemption process has been modified. While specific exemptions are set for medical devices and monitoring instruments, the validity period of exemptions becomes limited. After five years, an exemption on lead or cadmium will have to be reviewed in order to encourage industry action on hazardous substances substitution.

Aside from the changes in scope, the RoHS Directive becomes a “New Approach Directive” -  meaning that CE marking will be required to show compliance with the heavy metal ban. The conformity assessment and the EC declaration of conformity will have to take into account the requirements of the RoHS Directive. For most manufacturers or importers this will require an adjustment in the existing technical documentation for their EEE, as most EEE already requires CE marking under the Low Voltage Directive or the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive. Harmonized standards should be issued in the future to facilitate the assessment of RoHS compliance.

The 27 Member States now have to adapt their national legislation to comply with the revised RoHS before 2 January 2013.  It is essential that manufacturers and importers of EEE  start assessing the potential implications the new heavy metal ban has on EEE they place on the EU market.

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