Product Safety and Standardization: Public consultation on RoHS Directive

The restriction of the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products is regulated by the RoHS Directive. Between 13 September and 06 December 2019 the European Commission is conducting a public consultation to evaluate those restrictions. The results of the consultation will shape the next revision of the RoHS Directive and will have a significant impact on the future rules on the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products. In this document, we shall attempt to provide an overview of the status quo, the ongoing consultation and the next steps.
 

1. What is RoHS?
 

RoHS is the acronym for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. Directive 2011/65/EU (the RoHS Directive) restricts the use of specific hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products (EEE). The main idea of the RoHS Directive is to prevent the use of the hazardous substances in EEE that are placed on the European markets. The Directive includes a list of hazardous substances, establishes the limits for use in EEE and indicates the rules for the exemption of particular uses. The RoHS Directive sets obligations for all participants in the distribution chain, including manufacturers, importers and distributors, regardless of whether they are situated in the EU or not, who must ensure that their EEE that enter the EU market comply with RoHS Directive standards.
 

2. What are the restricted substances?
 

The RoHS Directive prohibits the use of the following substances above the indicated limits (maximum concentration values tolerated by weight in homogeneous materials):
 

  • Lead (0.1 %)
  • Mercury (0.1 %)
  • Cadmium (0.01 %)
  • Hexavalent chromium (0.1 %)
  • Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) (0.1 %)
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) (0.1 %)
     

3. What is to be understood by electrical and electronic products (EEE)?
 

In general, the RoHS Directive applies to all electrical and electronic products. The Directive specifies the following categories, but indicates that all other electrical and electronic products are also covered by the Directive:
 

  • Large household appliances
  • Small household appliances
  • IT and telecommunications equipment
  • Consumer equipment
  • Lighting equipment
  • Electrical and electronic tools
  • Toys, leisure and sports equipment
  • Medical devices
  • Monitoring and control instruments including industrial monitoring and control instruments
  • Automatic dispensers
  • Other EEE not covered by any of the categories above (so-called open scope)
     

4. Are there any EEE which are excluded from the RoHS Directive?
 

Yes, some particular uses are excluded from the scope of the RoHS Directive. As a rule, the use of the restricted substances for some equipment is permitted where it is considered that this equipment serves some important purpose, for example medicine, science, environmental protection or the military.
 

Consequently, the RoHS Directive does not apply to the following categories of uses:
 

  • Military / safety equipment
  • Equipment for use in space
  • Devices that form part of an excluded type of device
  • Large, stationary industrial tools
  • Large stationary plants
  • Vehicles for persons or goods
  • Movable machines not intended for use on the road
  • Active implantable medical devices
  • Photovoltaic modules
  • Devices designed exclusively for research and development purposes
     

5. Why are there so many versions of the RoHS Directive?
 

You can find references to RoHS I, RoHS II or RoHS III. The Directive has been evaluated and updated many times. The version currently applicable is often referred to as RoHS II. At present, the EU is working on another evaluation of the Directive, which will be called RoHS III.
 

6. What is the timeline for the current evaluation of the RoHS Directive?
 

According to the timeline indicated in Directive 2011/65/EU (RoHS II), the European Commission must complete its review by 22 July 2021. The process, which started at the end of 2018 with a request for feedback from interested parties, is ongoing. The Commission intends to present a proposal for RoHS III in the fourth quarter of 2020.
 

7. What is the current consultation about?
 

The European Commission has just opened the second phase of the evaluation, namely, the formal consultation period. For the purpose of the consultation, the Commission has published a questionnaire (available here). Interested parties have until 6 December 2019 to submit their comments on how the restriction of hazardous substances in EEE works in practice.
 

The aim of the evaluation is to verify whether the objectives of the RoHS Directive, namely, protecting human health and the environment, including the environmentally sound recovery and disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment, and guaranteeing the functioning of the internal market, were delivered. In particular, the Commission will evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the RoHS Directive, its relevance for the needs of the EU, its coherence with other EU environmental policy objectives and legislation and the added value that the Directive brings to Member States.
 

Through the consultation, the Commission wants to receive comments from interested parties about particular opportunities, challenges and impacts related to the implementation of the RoHS Directive. In particular, the Commission seeks to gain a better understanding of the general awareness of citizens and the industry of the RoHS Directive. In its questionnaire the Commission asks about the knowledge of the rules and how suitability is assessed. One part of the questionnaire refers to the regulatory burden of the RoHS Directive on industry. In addition, it asks for the views of industry on the coherence between the RoHS Directive and other environmental legislation, such as REACH or WEEE.
 

8. What could my contribution to the consultation process be?
 

The public consultation is an opportunity for all interested parties to express their views on the effects of RoHS II as well as their concerns regarding any inconsistencies or unsuccessful mechanisms imposed by the Directive.
 

During the initial feedback process, which was concluded in 2018, representatives from various industries, chambers of commerce and industry associations raised concerns regarding the following shortcomings of the RoHS Directive:
 

  • Lack of coherence between RoHS, REACH, WEEE and the “Ecolabel”: many substances must be assessed on the basis of all these legal acts. Additionally, often these pieces of legislation impose different assessment requirements. The process was therefore considered to be too burdensome and confusing and the industry requested better consistency between all relevant pieces of legislation.
  • No priority is given to the principle of a “circular” or recycling economy. Availability of refurbished products, which should have been enhanced by the RoHS Directive, has actually been decreased as a result of RoHS regulation.
  • Negative consequences of the current legislation on R&D and innovation. Exemption process is not suited for R&D projects with a 7-10 year horizon.
  • Superfluous regular checks on substances.
  • Overly long and burdensome process of granting exemptions, creating high level of uncertainty in the industry. Exemption periods are too short and are not aligned with the lifetime of a product and long-term supply contracts.
  • Wording of exemptions is considered to be too complex and overly complicated even for the industry.
  • Unclear methodology for substance review.
  • Global impact of RoHS legislation not taken into account.
     

Those issues are addressed in the Commission’s published questionnaire. If one of the above or another issue related to RoHS is relevant to your organisation or company and you want to further shape the RoHS Directive, we recommend that you take part in the public consultation on RoHS. Feedback to the consultation can be submitted by interested parties directly or through associations.
 

9. Other ongoing initiatives relating to RoHS
 

Apart from the ongoing general evaluation of the RoHS Directive, the Commission regularly conducts reviews of the list of restricted substances (Annex II of the RoHS Directive), of the list of applications exempted from the RoHS Directive (Annex III of the RoHS Directive) and of the list of applications exempted from the RoHS Directive specific to medical devices and monitoring and control instruments (Annex IV of the RoHS Directive) and organizes public consultations for RoHS stakeholders in that regard. Öko-Institut e.V, which cooperates with the Commission in the review of the list of restricted substances and exemptions, regularly publishes information on its webpage about new consultations regarding the review of Annex II, Annex III and Annex IV of the RoHS Directive.
 

On 26 September 2019, Öko-Institut opened a consultation on four substances (indium phosphide; beryllium and its compounds; nickel sulphate and nickel sulfamate; and cobalt dichloride and cobalt sulphate) with a view to the review and amendment of Annex II of the RoHS Directive. Interested parties have until 07 November 2019 to submit their views.
 

If you have any questions about this topic, please contact our specialists on product safety and standardization.