Governments are beginning to limit the waste and pollution generated by electronic equipment.
New EU standards to limit waste go into effect this year.
TUV Rheinland of North America
The European Union is taking one of the first steps with its Waste of Electrical & Electronic Equipment initiative (WEEE) going into effect August 13. Then the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) initiative becomes active July 1 of 2006. For companies exporting products for sale or use in an EC country, these initiatives are mandatory. Those that don't comply will be shut out of one of the world's largest markets at a time when a weakened dollar has already led numerous companies to view the EC as means of increasing profits.
By 2010, it's predicted 12 million tons of burnt-out and broken electronic devices will be tossed into the world's land fills every year. To head-off that prediction, WEEE mandates recycling all electronic waste. Items regulated by WEEE fall under 10 broad-based categories: large household appliances, small household appliances, IT and telecommunications gear, consumer equipment, lighting, electric tools, toys and leisure and sports equipment, medical devices, monitoring and control instruments, and automatic dispensers. Virtually anything controlled by less than 1,000 Vac or 1,500 Vdc that isn't an industrial tool or an implanted medical device falls under WEEE.
European planners envision consumers and companies placing used equipment in recycling bins or returning it to the point of purchase. It will then be hauled to a centralized recycling facility for sorting and distribution back to the original manufacturer. The bad news for companies is that under WEEE, producers pay recycling costs. This means that either component manufacturers or manufacturers of the finished item must indicate what must happen to their product when a consumer returns it.
For example, when a computer needs to be recycled, there are two possible scenarios once the PC hits the recycling center. If the computer maker is responsible for recycling, it will pick up the device and sort it for recycling and disposal. The other scenario is that the computer is broken down into components, such as CPU, power supply, keyboard, and cables, and individual manufacturers are responsible for recycling each component they made. Exactly which scenario unfolds hinges on agreements worked out between the computer manufacturer and component suppliers. This is an important consideration for component manufacturers when negotiating deals for products targeted at the EU.
It will also present a challenge to manufacturers. They must develop plans that meet WEEE requirements, including outlining details of their products' life cycles, and register those plans with the EU. And these instructions must be either posted on the product (or in paperwork that accompanies its purchase) or online.
RoHS requirements piggyback on the WEEE initiative. Many of the items earmarked for recycling under WEEE also contain lead, mercury, and other materials. Recycling should help take these substances out of the waste stream. But RoHS goes a step further, requiring all products falling under WEEE be certified as not exceeding specific levels of six substances: lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). Even companies that don't have these substances in their products must have their products certified as being free of them. The EU wants companies to check for these substances by mechanically sampling all homogenous parts (units that cannot be mechanically disjointed into single materials) to earn certification.
For example if a company exports calculators to Europe, each type of input button, the LCD, screws, CPU, and other parts would have to be tested and certified. So companies should start examining their supply chain to weed out possible problems.
WEEE and RoHS regulations will likely become stricter and extend their reach. For example, countries outside the EU have begun to adopt similar legislation. So RoHS should be part of any purchase conditions a company establishes with suppliers. Clearly, companies should be setting up testing and certification at the earliest stage possible.
While there are short-term challenges presented by WEEE, RoHS, and other environmental initiatives, there should be long-term benefits for everyone involved. The regulations should spur manufacturing improvements and reusing parts should save money. And eventually the cost of waste collection for municipalities will come down as electronics are diverted from the landfills. Additionally there should be more jobs in the recycling industry.
Electronic products that fall under WEEE
LARGE HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES
- Freezers and refrigerators
- Washing machines and dryers
- Dishwashers, stoves, hot plates, and microwave ovens
- Heaters, air conditioners, and fans
SMALL HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES
- Vacuum cleaners and sweepers
- Sewing and knitting machines
- Irons and steam cleaners
- Toasters, fryers, grinders, and coffee machines
- Electric knives and toothbrushes Clocks and watches
IT AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS
- Mainframes, PCs, laptops, and PDAs
- Printers and copiers
- Calculators and fax machines
- Typewriters Telephones and answering machines
- Radios and TVs
- Video cameras and players
- Audio amplifiers and musical instruments
- Fluorescent lamps and fixtures
- High-intensity discharge lamps and low-pressure sodium lamps
- Drills and saws
- Metalworking and woodworking machinery
- Welders and soldering devices
- Lawn mowers and other gardening equipment
- Riveters and spray guns
TOYS, LEISURE AND SPORTS EQUIPMENT
- Electric trains and race-car sets
- Handheld and TV-based video games
- Coin slot machines
- Computers for biking, diving and running
- Radiotherapy equipment
- Cardiology and dialysis machines
- Pulmonary ventilators and diagnostic gear
- Nuclear medicine devices (All implanted and infected devices are exempt)
MONITORING AND CONTROL INSTRUMENTS
- Smoke detectors
- Heating regulators and thermostats
- Measuring and weighing equipment
- Control cabinets and panels
- Hot and cold-drink dispensers
- Soda machines