RoHS X – Distribution & RMAs, so many unanswered questions

RoHS applies to products that are put on the market on or after July 1, 2006. So, this brings up the question: what does it mean for a product to be “put on the market”?

Some few optimistic souls have interpreted “put on the market” to mean when a product design is put on the market. In their vision, if you sell 80,000 printers a month, but you haven’t changed the printer design since June, 2006, then as long as you don’t change the printer design you can keep on selling 80,000 printers a month and not worry about RoHS.

Most people have NOT relied on this interpretation. Most people have taken “put on the market” to mean when a product is offered for sale in the EU.

(I’ve even seen a definition of “put on the market” from some EU guidebook posted on-line, but I really don’t feel like looking for it right now.)

But once you say a product is available to consumers or offered for sale or whatever, then how does the warehouse and distribution model fit into that? If I make printers and they are sold to retailers through a warehouse distribution company, and warehouse stock turnover is typically six months, and there’s absolutely no way that a consumer can buy directly from the warehouse, then when are my products “put on the market”? Is it when they hit the EU shores and are put into warehouse stock? Or is it six months later when they are put on the shelves of the retail store? This is one of the questions that has not been clearly answered yet.

The next question is RMA & repair units. Suppose my printers that I sold before July 1, 2006, are not RoHS compliant (a very plausible assumption). Suppose that I have a customer service system where defective units can be returned. Sometimes the units are repaired and sent back to the same customer, sometimes the units are repaired and sent back to a different customer. These printers have already been sold once and if I am returning the same printer to the same customer with only a different motor or print head, then it’s not being “put on the market”. But suppose I am sending printers to different customers, that is to say that I have a rotating stock of used printers, maybe faulty and repaired, or maybe the customer just didn’t like it and I gave them their money back but I have to be honest and say that the printer is used. In that case, is the printer being “put on the market”? If I am not charging any money for my RMA program, would that make it less “put on the market” than if I were charging a nominal fee? Here we have more unanswered questions.

And, if I am selling refurbished printers to the general public, then that would almost certainly be “put on the market”. Right?

One document that was cited in online discussion was the Guide to Implementation of Directives Based on New Approach and Global Approach, available at http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/newapproach/legislation/guide/legislation.htm . Page 17 states:

Consumer products outside the field of application of New Approach directives and other Community legislation (for example products not complying with the definition laid down by the directive in question, used and second-hand products that were originally placed on the Community market before the directive entered into force, and repaired products) come under the Directive on general product safety, where they are supplied in the course of commercial activity.

Wonderful. As someone else on the IPC leadfree forum pointed out recently, wasn’t the whole point of RoHS & WEEE to encourage reduction of waste in landfills and to promote reuse & recycling of electronic materials? So if that is the case, why are we going to have about five years worth of products that might have been recycled & resold as refurbished goods, that instead all are going to go straight to the landfill because no one wants to become the court test case that determines what is “put on the market” really means? And since the EU creates so many standards, why can’t they be bothered to put some more definitions in at least some of those standards?

More unanswered questions.

Oh, and another thing yet another person IPC leadfree pointed out: If you are transferring equipment from one subsidiary of a company to another, is that “put on the market”? A reasonable person would think not, but between the terms that aren’t defined and the terms that are defined much too broadly, that can’t be assumed. So if someone is moving an RMA operation to Eastern Europe and that includes equipment that is not compliant with RoHS, does the equipment count as being “put on the market”? What if the company that is moving their RMA operations isn’t just moving it to a different subsidiary, what if they are completely outsourcing it?

A lot of people see WEEE & RoHS as backdoor ways to protect “Fortress Europe” from American & Asian competition. But what if they’re really ways to protect Fortress Europe from Eastern European competition?

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