Environment : EU ban on hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment enters into force
As of July 1, certain hazardous substances posing a threat to human health and the environment will be banned in a whole range of electrical and electronic products marketed in the European Union. The substances concerned (six heavy metals and brominated flame retardants) are prohibited because they present a direct risk to the health of workers during the recycling of electrical and electronic waste, and they can be released into the environment when this waste is incinerated or landfilled. Electrical and electronic waste is the fastest growing type of waste in Europe. Manufacturers have had more than three years to prepare for the entry into force of the ban, decided in January 2003.Public authorities in some countries have followed this EU initiative with keen interest. China, which is one of the main producers of electrical and electronic equipment, has also indicated its intention to introduce similar provisions next year.
“The ban on the use of these hazardous substances in a wide range of electrical and electronic products has a dual benefit for health and the environment,” said Mr Stavros Dimas, Member of the Commission responsible for the environment. "It will allow us not only to eliminate the risk inherent in these substances, but also to significantly increase the amount of used equipment that will be recycled, making recycling safer and less expensive." I am delighted that China is proposing to follow Europe's example and I encourage other countries to do the same. ”
The six prohibited hazardous substances are certain heavy metals (lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium) and two groups of brominated flame retardants [polybromobiphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)].
All these substances cause serious harm to human health and the environment. Thus, lead and mercury can have harmful effects on the brain and nervous system and are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. In addition, they accumulate in living organisms and the environment. Brominated flame retardants can interfere with reproduction in humans, be transformed in the body into highly toxic compounds, and cause tumors. They are toxic to the aquatic environment, where they can also accumulate and persist, instead of breaking down into several harmless by-products.
The ban on certain substances is the keystone of the Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS)  adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in 2003, in parallel the Directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE)  , which it supplements.
Coming into force last year (see IP / 05 / xx), the WEEE directive sets targets for each member state for the collection of electrical and electronic waste, as well as for recycling and energy recovery. By ending the use of banned substances, the RoHS directive will help ensure that electrical and electronic waste is safely dismantled and recycled. Thus, lead has been largely abandoned for the production of soldering of printed circuits, in favor of safer materials, such as tin.
The range of equipment covered by the ban on hazardous substances is very extensive and could include thousands of products that consume electricity. This concerns in particular small and large household appliances, computer equipment and telecommunications equipment (including personal computers), electrical and electronic tools, toys, lighting equipment, vending machines and leisure equipment and sport.
All member states have transposed the directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment into national law. The industry was actively involved in its implementation, and many companies began in the 1990s to phase out the hazardous substances concerned.
Like manufacturers and suppliers, public authorities around the world are showing a keen interest in the Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. It seems indeed that, like China, Japan and South Korea intend to take inspiration from EU legislation.
To learn more about the WEEE directive and the RoHS directive, see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee_index.htm .
This article originates from the EUROPA Rapid Press Releases website