What is RoHS? Understanding Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electronics

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What Is RoHS?

RoHS stands for Restriction of Hazardous Substances. The RoHS directive, issued in the European Union, restricts the use of several hazardous materials in electronic and electrical equipment (EEE). All EEE products sold in the EU must comply with RoHS.

The RoHS directive currently limits the use of ten hazardous substances within EEE in the European Union. The current restrictions are the result of one original directive and two additions known as RoHS 2 and 3.

RoHS 1 – The original directive, Directive 2002/95/EC, was issued in 2002, and included six materials deemed to be hazardous to human health and the environment. 

RoHS 2 – In 2011, the original directive was superseded by Directive 2011/65/EU, known as RoHS 2. RoHS 2 included additional requirements for assessment of electronic products in the EU, as well as additional categories of appliances subject to RoHS.

RoHS 3 – The directive was amended in 2015 when Directive EU 2015/863, or RoHS 3, added 4 new restricted phthalates. RoHS 3 is simply an amendment to its predecessor, and businesses must still comply with all requirements of RoHS 2.

Read more: The Difference Between RoHS 1, 2 and 3

Which Hazardous Substances Are Restricted by RoHS?

The ten hazardous materials included in RoHS can only be used under the maximum levels laid out by the directive. The allowable amount for each substance except cadmium is 1000 ppm. The allowable amount for cadmium is 100 ppm.

The materials include:

Which Products Are Restricted?

EEE regulated under RoHS includes a wide variety of products separated into eleven categories, ranging from large household appliances to medical devices. The eleventh category is all-encompassing, as it includes any EEE not covered in the previous ten categories. 

It is important that manufacturers determine whether their product fits the definition of EEE, because all EEE is subject to RoHS compliance requirements. RoHS defines EEE as: “equipment which is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly and equipment for the generation, transfer and measurement of such currents and fields” (Directive 2011/65/EU). 

Even small components of EEE, such as cables or other sub-assemblies, must comply with RoHS standards. 

Who Does RoHS Impact?

RoHS has widespread impact, but directly affects sellers of EEE and buyers of EEE.

1) Sellers of EEE: Manufacturers, Importers, and Distributors

Any manufacturer, importer, or distributor of electronic and electrical equipment (EEE) sold in the EU market must be compliant with RoHS.

It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to ensure their product complies with RoHS. The manufacturing and testing requirements necessary for RoHS compliance may also increase costs for manufacturers. 

Read more: What is ‘RoHS Compliant’?

EEE regulated under RoHS includes a wide variety of products separated into eleven categories ranging from large household appliances like dishwashers to medical devices. 

Rules similar to RoHS have spread to other regions, including India, China, South Korea, the UAE, Vietnam, Japan, and the United States, including California and New Jersey. It is important for electronic companies to remain aware of shifting hazardous substance legislation in markets around the world.

2) Buyers of EEE: Consumers

Buyers may be impacted by higher prices of EEE due to RoHS. These increased prices, however, come in exchange for better protection of human health and the environment. 

RoHS often increases the cost of manufacturing EEE, as more testing and regulation is required. These increased manufacturing costs are then reflected in increased prices for consumers.

RoHS requires many EEE manufacturers to use new or different processes in order to remain below the allowable limits for hazardous materials. While these alternative methods and materials do have environmental benefits, they often cost more to implement, especially at first. Increased consumer prices act to offset these costs.

3) Other: The General Public

Ultimately, RoHS affects everyone, as RoHS works to protect the health of our environment and communities. Read more about the environmental impact of RoHS below.

Even the rare person who does not buy or use any electronic equipment may be affected by the negative environmental and health effects of improper disposal of electronic waste, commonly referred to as e-waste. 

Additionally, the restriction of certain levels of hazardous substances protects human health during the use of products. For example, toys whose paint contains lead, a toxic heavy metal, are not RoHS compliant.

Why is RoHS Important?

RoHS’s importance can be summarized into three main areas of impact: the market, the environment, and consumer health. While RoHS creates increased costs for sellers and buyers of EEE, the directive also protects the natural environment and human health.

1) The Market

As discussed previously under “Buyers of EEE,” RoHS raises costs for sellers and buyers of EEE alike. 

EEE manufacturers must use less hazardous and often more expensive methods to produce RoHS-compliant products. Additionally, testing EEE products and ensuring RoHS compliance may be costly.

Buyers also experience increased prices of electronics in their day to day lives as a result of RoHS.

Of course, these increased prices come hand in hand with safer, more environmentally friendly devices.

2) The Environment

The restricted materials listed in RoHS act as environmental pollutants that often end up in landfills. By limiting the amount of these hazardous substances that may be used, RoHS protects the environment and increases the amount of EEE that can be recycled safely.

RoHS works in tandem with WEEE, an e-waste directive, to minimize the negative environmental impacts of e-waste. 

Learn more: Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).

3) Consumer Health

RoHS works to protect consumers of EEE and broader communities from the harmful health effects of hazardous materials. RoHS aims to minimize health impacts caused by EEE in every stage of a product’s lifecycle, from production to use to disposal.

Several materials restricted by RoHS create toxic waste and occupational hazards that negatively impact human health. According to a paper published at Stanford University in 2011, the materials restricted by RoHS can harm not only workers in the production and recycling phases, but also communities located near manufacturing plants (Nimpuno et al. 2011).

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