RoHS: Past, Present …Future

We have certainly come a long way since July 1, 2006 when the EEE industry was introduced to the Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS). In the four years that have passed, RoHS has been debated and opposed, accepted and overdone, enforced and neglected, and most importantly, continually changed.

From the very moment that RoHS was introduced, the question was asked: “how will enforcement be carried out by authorities?” Just how did the country authorities expect to monitor and enforce a law that pushed the boundaries of how EEE was designed and manufactured when there were so many exemptions and areas of uncertainty? The answer to this question has been apparent over the past 4 years – it won’t.

At least not by country authorities.

The truth is that the industry itself is responsible for the majority of RoHS enforcement, with many large manufacturers keeping tight control on their supply chain and keeping auditing/due diligence in-house with their own XRF and wet-chemical test facilities. Japanese industry took RoHS to a higher level with the adoption of JGPSSI (Japan Green Survey Standard Initiative) that required suppliers to comply with RoHS and a multitude of other substance restrictions and declaration requirements. With big names such as NEC and Sony enforcing JGPSSI, RoHS was being mandated through non-legislative channels and the fallout for being exposed as non-compliant (and subsequently dropped as a supplier) was/is massive. This was only the beginning.

From its inception, industry was really split in their approach to RoHS. While some big names decided to ignore material declaration and compliance, others went in the complete opposite direction. If Lead, Cadmium, Mercury, Hexavalent Chromium and PBB/PBDE were of such a concern to authorities, what were the next items to follow? From this was born the industry trend toward internal RSL (restricted substances list) development and enforcement. Any manufacturer of EEE components/subassemblies reading this article will know that the days of single digit RSL lists are gone. What was once 6 substances now ranges into the hundreds ,depending on the company, and covers much more than RoHS and REACH. It seems that the only real consistencies for restricted substances are:

  1. Enforcement is industry driven
  2. Restrictions vary by company
  3. Change is constant
  4. Compliance declaration is largely homogeneous (no pun intended) across industries

If the last 4 years are any indication, industry will continue to lead restricted substances enforcement.

Now, taking a look at the NMO (National Measurement Office of the UK) RoHS enforcement report from the past year (April 1 2009 through March 31 2010), we see that the long anticipated summary of action is largely indirect. No stories of non-compliances resulting in penalty or prosecution are highlighted, no aggressive initiatives are stated and the reader is simply left to comply by the governance of industry and look to the enforcement agencies for educational resources. That is to say that the NMO talks about the “indirect approach” to RoHS enforcement, which is founded on the “belief that most UK industry would aim to operate in a lawful manner and would therefore work towards full compliance”.

The following is the summary of “direct” enforcement by the NMO. Of particular interest are the 10 warning letters, 0 cautions and 0 prosecutions. Stacking these up next to a single global manufacturer with thousands of suppliers and the business impact of enforcement by being dropped from a preferred supplier list, the NMO has not really enforced anything.

Between April 1 2009 and March 31 2010, the NMO:

Resolutions Type No.
Investigations 326
Resolution after initial engagement (1) 143 Compliant Business
Resolution requiring direct intervention (2) 158 Administrative resolution
Improvement plans 6
Compliance Notices 5
EU Notifications 2
Product Withdrawals/quarantines 2
Warning letters 10
Simple cautions 0
Prosecutions 0

In summary, RoHS, REACH and RSL lists in general are here to stay. The authorities create the requirements and the industry enforces them.

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