‘Worldwide implications’ from EU electro-chemical waste restriction

Tough EU policies on electronic and chemical waste will influence markets, the environment and regulations worldwide, according to a study by two US academic experts with several countries already introducing similar laws.  

In the past five years, the EU has developed and adopted major e-waste directives, which member states will begin to implement during 2007. The directives require electronics manufacturers to offer free disposal of consumers’ used equipment and also to prohibit the export of hazardous waste to developing countries for disposal. 

In particular, three recent EU environmental policies are gradually being implemented across the 27 European Union member nations. Two e-waste directives, adopted in 2003, require manufacturers to dispose of consumers’ used electronic equipment free of charge and prohibit the export of hazardous waste to developing countries for disposal. 

The rules affect products including household appliances, toys, computers and many more. “The e-waste problem has grown dramatically,” said VanDeveer, “as hundreds of millions of cell phones, TVs, computers and other electronic products containing a host of hazardous substances are consumed and discarded in the United States and around the globe.”

Meanwhile, the REACH regulation on chemical safety will introduce requirements for importers of products and for information flow in the supply chain. 

Given the globally organized supply chain in the high-tech sector, REACH is likely to have a “major impact not only on manufacturing inside the EU but also outside”, say VanDeveer and Selin.

The rules put the European Union in the global lead in terms of protecting consumers and the environment, VanDeveer added.

But complications emerge when a country produces a similar legislation which introduces diverging requirements. China drafted a legislation restricting hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment which requires companies to fulfill obligation specific to China, thus making it difficult for companies to run one global compliance strategy which would incur, in many cases, additional and unnecessary manufacturing costs. 

Stacy VanDeveerBrown University visiting fellow, said: "In the next couple of years, we're likely to see environmental groups targeting particular producers or retailers in campaigns based on the E.U. rules," he said. "If they can demonstrate that a company can make televisions with none or less of these substances, it strikes me that environmentalists will use that more actively." 

American Electronics Association

(AeA) Europe Managing Director James Lovegrove
told EURACTIV: "Complying with the strictest requirements is not enough.  An official from a non-EU country does not need to pay any attention to whether the product is good enough for Europe or not.  The result is a significant investment in compliance sometimes without any particular guarantee of success  - I would argue that this money/resource could otherwise be available for R&D and even for producing the next generation of cutting- edge green product.  A careful balance must be struck when straitjacketing innovators. 

"Although non-EU countries have no obligation to 'copy and paste' EU law, we do encourage them to work with us as well as each other to iron out unnecessary difference between the various initiatives.  Climate change is a ticking bomb and we do not have resources nor time to waste. 

"Ever-stricter EU rulings have certainly sent ripples of regulatory activity around the globe - such as substance bans, take-back requirements and energy-efficient requirements.

"No one questions the importance of addressing such environmental challenges.  However, there is a risk that this trend results in an unco-ordinated patchwork of initiatives. This gives rise to significant concern in terms of workability and ultimately whether the global environment is best served." 

The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that the world's population discards 20 to 50 million tons of electrical and electronic waste each year and predicts the mount will increase by 3% to 5% each year. Much of that waste ends up in China.

Stacy VanDeveer, a visiting fellow at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies, and Henrik Selin, an assistant professor of international relations at Boston University, said that strict EU policies would influence markets, the environment, and regulations worldwide. 

The pair argue that in recent years the high-tech sector has witnessed a development in which countries such as China, Korea, Australia, Canada and the US state California have introduced environmental legislation very similar to EU laws.


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