Read this article to learn why RoHS compliance is important for your electrical equipment.
Why is RoHS compliance important?
The RoHS Directive originated in the EU with the rise in the production and use of electrical and electronic products (a.k.a. EEE). During the use, treatment and disposal of EEE, harmful substances (e.g. lead and cadmium) may be released and, consequently, cause significant environmental and health problems. RoHS helps prevent such issues. It restricts the presence of specific hazardous substances in electrical products that safer alternatives can substitute.
Currently, the Directive limits the use of heavy metals, flame retardants and plasticizers in EEE such as:
- Hexavalent chromium
- Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
- Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)
- Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)
- Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
- Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP).
The main objective of the RoHS Directive is to prevent the risks posed to human health and the environment linked to the management of electronic and electrical waste. The Directive also promotes the recyclability of EEE and, at the same time, ensures a level playing field for EU manufacturers and importers of EEE.
Does RoHS affect you?
From 2006, all electrical products sold on the EU market must pass testing for RoHS compliance. The scope of the RoHS Directive includes everything from kitchen appliances (e.g. toasters and refrigerators) to mobile phones, laptops and lighting equipment. It does not make a distinction between EEE for consumer use and EEE for professional and industrial use.
Thus, if you manufacture, import or distribute goods covered by the Directive, the products mustn’t contain more than a permitted level of harmful substances. As an economic party, you need to identify the hazardous substances in your products and find appropriate alternatives, where possible. If the latter can’t be achieved, you must check for exemptions from the rules. In Addition, you need to ensure that your suppliers CE certify the components they provide. So, if you deal with Asian suppliers, keep in mind that China has adopted the RoHS Directive, and South Korea adheres to a voluntary RoHS compliance program.
How can you comply with RoHS?
Before placing an electrical product on the EU market, you need to carry out a specific conformity assessment procedure to prove compliance with the provisions of RoHS. This assessment procedure includes product testing at an accredited test lab and creating a technical file and an EU Declaration of Conformity.
During testing, the lab determines the levels of certain restricted elements in the homogeneous components of each of your products. Some of the tests conducted are:
- X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) to determine the levels of metals and alloys.
- Fourier Transform Infra-Red Spectrophotometer (FTIR) to identify polymers and polymer blends.
- Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM/EDX) to check for lead-free solders.
- Occasionally Atomic Absorbance Spectrophotometry (AAS) to identify lead and mercury.
When creating the technical documentation, you need to meet the requirements stated in Annex II of the Directive. As for the EU Declaration, it must provide information on how the relevant provisions of RoHS have been satisfied.
Lastly, note that the market surveillance authorities severely punish non-compliance. The penalties are strict and vary considerably between EU counties but typically include massive fines and imprisonment.