The RoHS-style environmental laws written in Europe, Korea, China or California are slightly different in each region, and the differences appear in critical areas such as exceptions, reporting and proof of compliance. The matrix of varying environmental compliance rules will get more complicated as new rules – such as the European Union’s (EU) REACH laws restricting additional chemicals – come into play. Manufacturers are not likely to respond by building a different product for each region. Instead, they’re likely to figure out what law comes with the strictest rules and comply with that law.
Perhaps the worst guess a manufacturer can make is that compliance with the EU’s RoHS law covers the company in Korea, China and California. “Some companies make the assumption the laws in China and Korea are the same as those in Europe,” says Michael Kirschner, president of Design Chain Associates, a San Francisco consulting firm that helps clients comply with environmental regulations. “All of the laws have similarities, since they are all targeting the same substances, but the details of each law is different.”
As an example, Kirschner notes that the scope of China’s RoHS laws were developed independently of the EU RoHS rules. There is substantial overlap, but many product types that are not covered by the EU RoHS are included in China’s RoHS. These include automotive electronics, radar equipment, components, some raw materials and packaging materials. There are also some categories in the EU RoHS that are not included in China’s legislation, such as toys and home appliances. Kirschner notes that even these exceptions need a careful look, as some components within toys and home appliances are covered by China’s legislation.
While manufacturers have concentrated on getting ready for the EU’s RoHS, they will soon have to grapple with a whole range of legislation as the laws in China and Korea come into effect next year. “We expect companies will build products that comply with the most difficult laws rather than building individual versions of their products for individual regions,” says Kirschner.
He also notes that component manufacturers are not done preparing to comply with environmental laws. New regulations such as the EU’s REACH – which affects chemicals that might make up come components – will force component manufacturers to make further changes in their parts. “As time moves forward, component manufacturers will have to go back to the drawing board as new substances get added to new legislation,” says Kirschner.
For manufacturers, detailed data on the material composition of each component will become increasingly important. Additional changes from new legislation and from RoHS laws in other regions will force manufacturers to closely monitor the substances contained in each part. “Companies need to demand full material disclosure across the supply chain,” says Kirschner. “That’s going to be difficult because there is a lot of intellectual property that could be revealed through full disclosure.”