RoHS Directive: Industry Group Challenges Exemption Recommendations

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Courtesy of Assent Compliance Inc.

A group of industry associations has told the European Union Commission it does not agree with recommendations on how to handle Pack 9 exemptions under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive.

The Cross-Industry Project, also known as the Umbrella Project, includes over 34 industry associations around the world. The group submitted their feedback in July 2016, shortly after the EU Commission received its Pack 9 recommendations from consultants Eunomia Research & Consulting, Oeko-Institut and Fraunhofer Institute IZM.

According to the Umbrella Project report, members were particularly concerned with these Pack 9 recommendations as they included exemptions which the group had requested to be renewed. In January 2015, they applied for renewals of exemptions 4(f), 6(a)(b)(c), 7(a), 7(c)-I-II-IV, 8(b), 15, 34 and 37 and more.

The report claims if the EU Commission implements the recommended changes, it would lead to a “too complicated, too burdensome and/or too bureaucratic legislative framework without obvious additional environmental, health and consumer benefits to its current form.”

The group’s primary concerns with the recommendations are shorter exemption applicability dates, and the rewording and/or splitting of exemptions.

Background

The RoHS Directive includes a set of exemptions which permit the use of certain restricted substances within specific use cases. These exemptions are designed to give industry time to find alternative solutions to these restricted substances within their products. As such, each exemption includes a specific expiry date.

The EU Commission grouped these exemption requests into ‘packs’ and enlisted the help of the Oeko-Institut, Eunomia Research & Consulting and Fraunhofer Institute IZM to review them and make recommendations on whether or not the exemptions should be renewed, expired or altered. These consultants submit their reports to the Commission, who then decide what actions they will take.

Not only does Pack 9 include the exemptions of concern for the Umbrella Project associations, but it also includes the majority of exemptions which were set to expire in July 2016.

Splitting Exemptions

If the Directive works as planned, exemptions should lessen over time. As industry finds alternative solutions to replace currently restricted substances in their products, the need for exemptions will be reduced. However, under the recommendations for the Pack 9 exemptions, 37 new exemptions were added to the 46 existing exemptions requested to be renewed.

This is the result of consultants taking exemptions and breaking them down by highly-specific volumes and use cases.

For example, Exemption 4(f) is worded as follows: “Mercury in other discharge lamps for special purposes not specifically mentioned in this Annex.”

The consultants recommended Exemption 4(f) be broken down to four different exemptions:

  1. Mercury in other discharge lamps for special purposes not specifically mentioned in this Annex.
  2. Mercury in high pressure mercury vapour lamps used in projectors where an output is greater than, or equal to, 2,000 lumen ANSI is required.
  3. Mercury in high pressure sodium vapour lamps used for horticulture lighting.
  4. Mercury in lamps emitting light in the ultraviolet spectrum for curing and disinfection.

Their reasoning for this, according to their report, is they do not believe the “diversity of applications justifies the further renewal of an exemption with a relatively open scope, which leaves a large potential for misuse and makes market surveillance difficult.”

However, the Umbrella Project argues this splitting of exemptions will lead to “unnecessary burden for stakeholders without commensurate benefits [to the greater protection of human health and the environment, compared to their current forms].”

Unrealistic Timeframes

The second concern involves shorter applicability dates for some exemptions.

Some of the recommendations made by the consultants to the EU Commission on certain exemptions would have them last only until July 2019, or three years. The Umbrella Project associations say this is not a significant period of time and will lead to nearly immediate renewal requests.

In order to gain an exemption renewal, companies must apply 18 months before its expiry date. If the consultants’ recommendations aren’t approved until 2017 — which is likely going to be the case — that would give companies a mere six months to decide whether or not a renewal of their applicable exemptions would be required.

Keeping in mind the goal of exemptions is to give companies time to find alternative solutions, the Umbrella Project organizations claim this short time period is not long enough to reasonably expect industry to find a solution, or be in a position to implement that solution if one is found.

Why Should You Care?

This is the first time the EU Commission has had to deal with exemption renewals at this scale. As such, it’s unknown exactly how this process will play out.

While it is possible the EU Commission implements the recommendations of their consultants as written, they may yet take into consideration industry critiques. Regardless of how they proceed, a final decision on these Pack 9 exemptions isn’t expected until the end of this year, or early 2017.

For companies in scope of the RoHS Directive, the recommendations made by these consultants are interesting to follow. Rather than providing the standard five-year timeframe for exemptions, they have instead opted to further narrow the scope of exemptions while also reducing the time industry has to find alternative solutions.

This does increase burden for companies, for several reasons. First, there are no guarantees that exemptions will be renewed. This means industry must increase their focus on finding alternative solutions or run the risk of losing market access if exemptions are not renewed, or are further narrowed in scope, without a viable solution in place. While this may seem like it furthers the goal of the RoHS Directive, it actually hampers companies who are trying to meet these difficult timeframes.

In addition to unrealistic timeframes, industry must also overcome an increasingly complicated exemption landscape. The rising risk of companies using the wrong exemptions and supplying customers with non-compliant parts places additional burden on those customers in terms of finding new suppliers, alternative parts or re-design products.

While the consultants base their reasoning on goals identified within the RoHS Directive, industry groups are countering these recommendations with the practical challenges associated with complying to these new exemptions and timeframes.

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