What is RoHS and RoHS Regulations

- a guide, overview or tutorial describing what is RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive, and what are the RoHS regulations.

RoHS is a directive within the European Union that is of great importance to manufacturers and suppliers of equipment. The letters stand for Restriction of Hazardous Substances, and its aim is to reduce the hazardous substances that are encountered in everyday life and also enter the ecosystem.

The application of the RoHS, Restriction of Hazardous Substances, directive is not only applicable to equipment manufactred within the EU, it also applies to items imported. In addition to this, many other countries outside the EU have similar legislation.

What is RoHS?

Although the major focus of the RoHS regulations have been on the reduction of lead within products to provide RoHS compliance, there is a total of six substances whose use is restricted:

  • Cadmium
  • Chromium VI - hexavalent chromium or Cr6+
  • Lead
  • Mercury
  • PBB
  • PBDE

In the list, PBB and PBDE are flame retardants that are used in some plastics.

RoHS application

The RoHS directive applies to a wide variety of products. The scope of the directive applies to equipment that is defined in the WEEE directive. These include:

  • Large and small household appliances
  • IT equipment
  • Telecommunications equipment (infrastructure equipment is exempt in some countries)
  • Consumer equipment
  • Lighting equipment
  • Electronic and electrical tools
  • Toys, leisure and sports equipment
  • Automatic dispensers

One of the main exemptions from the RoHS directive is that batteries are not included despite the high levels of substances that would normally come under RoHS. Lead-acid batteries, NiCds, and mercury batteries are prime examples.

Another exemption is that the RoHS directive does not apply to fixed industrial plant and tools. Here compliance is the responsibility of the company that markets the product.

Note on WEEE Directive:

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive (2002/96/EC) is a directive issued by the EU that aims to aims to reduce the waste arising from electrical and electronic equipment; and improve the environmental performance of all those involved in the life cycle of electrical and electronic products. The WEEE directive covers electrical and electronic equipment used by private consumers and professional applications.

Implementation of RoHS Regulations

The aim of the RoHS regulations are to reduce the levels of the hazardous substances within electronic equipment. With increasing levels of electronic equipment being produced, and some time later discarded, it has been found the levels of hazardous substances in the environment has been rising. One of the major areas of the RoHS has been to reduce the level of lead, and sometimes RoHS is mistakenly thought of as the "lead free legislation." However as seen above there is more than only lead that is involved in the legislation.

In order to limit the levels of substances maximum acceptable levels are set for the substances. Maximum concentrations of 0.1% by weight of homogeneous material are set for all but Cadmium, which as it is more toxic, the maximum level is set to 0.01%.

The limits do not apply to just the whole product, but to any element, component or substance that could be separated from it. In one example this could apply to the solder used on a printed circuit board. It could equally apply to the plastic insulation of a wire. In this way, everything that is used in the construction of a product must be RoHS compliant.

Although RoHS is more than just lead-free manufacturing, one of the main thrusts by manufacturers of electronic equipment has been to adopt soldering processes that are lead free to provide RoHS compliance. At one time lead was a major constituent of solder, and the new legislation has meant that many new lead free solders are being developed and used. As their properties are slightly different to the solders containing lead, careful control of processes has been required to ensure that same high standards of the final products are maintained. Solder joint reliability is a major factor that has had to be addressed.

RoHS around the globe

RoHS regulations are contained within an EU directive, and in view of the size of the EU, other countries that export products to the EU need to be compliant. This makes its application far more wide ranging, with countries around the globe being aware of it and having to manufacture goods that are RoHS compliant.

In addition to countries and companies who export to the EU, many countries are adopting RoHS itself, or RoHS-like legislation and standards. China is introducing similar legislation, and many refer to their standards as "China RoHS". One of the main differences is that unlike the EU where products are included unless they are specifically included, in China the opposite is true. However there is the possibility that China may include some products that are not included within the EU.

Within the USA, the State of California has adopted RoHS style legislation and this takes effect on 1st January 2007. These RoHS regulations use the EU RoHS directive as its base.

In Japan, a slightly different approach is being seen to RoHS. While Japan does not have any RoHS laws themselves, their recycling legislation has given the impetus to their manufacturers to adopt lead-free processes. Additionally there is a significant "green bonus", to manufacturers to who adopt environmentally friendly manufacturing as this can be used as part of their advertising and sales.

RoHS testing and RoHS compliance

It is necessary for electronics products these days within the relevant categories to show RoHS compliance before they can be sold. It may be necessary to carry out RoHS testing to ensure that products are free of the substances prohibited under the RoHS regulations. This RoHS testing can be carried out by a number of laboratories.

Future of RoHS

With the world having to become more aware of environmental issues, the RoHS directive and RoHS regulations are likely to be the basis on which more directives are introduced. Despite the cost of its introduction, the cost of not being aware of harm to the environment would be significantly worse, making any cost a worthwhile investment.

Please note: This article contains simplified guidance on complex and changing legislation, and it does not constitute legal advice. While we endeavour to keep it accurate, we cannot be held liable for any errors or omissions. Compliance with the law remains the responsibility of the user. If there are any concerns over compliance, then professional advice should be sought.

By Ian Poole

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