An updated EU law on restricting the use of toxic chemicals in electronic devices leaves little room for exemptions and lists a number of new substances for further scientific scrutiny in view of extending a black list of banned substances.
The European Parliament's environment committee yesterday (24 November) adopted a compromise deal on updating existing legislation on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) in electronic and electrical equipment.
The first-reading agreement was adopted with 640 votes in favour, three against and 12 abstentions.
The amended directive has a global impact, since it applies also to goods imported from third countries and not just to those produced in the EU.
It will also influence how electronic waste is dealt with abroad, as most of it is currently shipped illegally in developing countries and processed there, often in sub-standard conditions.
The Parliament voted to widen the scope of the directive from a specific list of items to all electrical and electronic appliances – unless specifically excluded. The idea is to achieve greater legal clarity on what is covered by the law.
Phones, fridges, TVs and most other common household items are already covered by existing legislation. But extending the directive's scope will mean some products – such as talking teddy bears and laboratory equipment – will need to conform for the first time.
The open scope will come into force after an eight-year transition period.
Photovoltaic solar panels, fixed industrial machinery and military material are among equipment that will remain outside the rules.
While the updated legislation will not immediately add new substances to the current blacklist, the European Commission will conduct a review of the list three years after the legislation has been published.
The current blacklist includes lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).
The House called for further evaluation of a number of substances that are not currently restricted, including three phtalates (a plastic softener) and one brominated flame retardant. Lawmakers also ensured that nanomaterials are cited as due for further scientific scrutiny.
Specific uses of blacklisted substances may be permitted if this is in the general interest of health and consumer safety and if there are no reliable alternatives. Any such exemptions will, however, be time-limited and subject to a stricter reapplication process.
Meanwhile, discussion continues between the Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers to update parallel rules on managing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).
A Parliament plenary vote on the dossier is scheduled for February 2011.