Columnists are starting to publicly say what a lot of people have been muttering to themselves for a while now: WEEE & RoHS are going to kill the European Union.
One of the original purposes of the European Union was to encourage trade among & within European Union countries. Once a product was either manufactured in Europe and had the CE Mark applied, or was manufactured elsewhere and had the CE Mark applied and customs allowed it in, it was supposed to pass between EU countries without fear of extra regulations, inspections, tests, etc. Instead of a European manufacturer having to consider 15 different national laws & regulatory bodies if they wanted to sell their product throughout Europe, they could follow one set of rules & laws and know that their product could be sold anywhere in Europe.
But no longer. Let us start with WEEE.
- First off, WEEE is in a category of European Union directives (there is some technical name for the category, but I cannot remember it right now) such that when the directives are incorporated into national law, the countries can add their own additional regulations into the legislation.
- Secondly, WEEE requires some way of encouraging and/or funding recycling efforts within that country. Depending on the industry & country in question, this can vary from mandatory payments into some sort of public fund that will then fund the recycling centers, to requirements for licenses & license fees paid to the government of a country by each individual company. So, we already have variance from country to country.
- But wait, there’s more! Some countries have been slower in setting up their licensing bureaus than others. And while some countries have on-line information in multiple languages explaining the requirements, other countries have a small office with personnel that only speak the native language.
- Which brings up the question: What if you are an exporter looking to export goods into a WEEE country? Well, if you have a local branch office in that country, hopefully they will have someone who can register for your license. Or, if you have a distributor in that country, they might be able to help you. Especially if you are manufacturing in another European country and just shipping product within the EU.
- But wait! What about mail order? What about those small companies that sell directly to the consumer, and may be located outside Europe, but have no European branch or distributor? Well, if you are one of those companies, many countries have no viable option for you — unless you want to open up a branch office in that country & hire some employees within that country, that is. Otherwise, you are in a catch-22: you cannot ship into that country without a WEEE license, but that country will not issue WEEE licenses to companies that do not have a representative within the country. What fun!
And then that brings us to RoHS. RoHS is actually an offshoot of WEEE, and as Dr. Lasky pointed out recently (http://www.indium.com/drlasky/entry.php?id=429) in his blog on Indium’s web site, RoHS is about making recycling (which should skyrocket under WEEE) safer for the recyclers and for the environment. At least that was the intent, there is still a large amount of discussion about life-cycle effects of moving so much production from a lower-melting-point & more malleable tin-lead solder to a higher-melting-point & more brittle tin-silver-copper solder, but that is another discussion for another time.
Getting back to the topic, RoHS is in a class of EU directives such that the text of the directive must be implemented directly into national legislation, no additional requirements (like banning more things than the initial list and still calling it RoHS) can be added in.
However, what about those portions of national law where the RoHS directive was unclear about how it should be interpreted? Well, those are fair game!
So, there are now differing interpretations between different countries in the following areas:
- What is “due diligence”? I have written about this before, so I will just summarize that by saying that if you are trying to import into the EU, you had better be able to show due diligence, but nobody knows what due diligence means. The differing definitions of due diligence have attendant time & money costs that vary from the annoying to the debilitating.
- There is also a lot of discussion (and very little firm national guidance) on accessories. If you ship a portable CD player into the EU and it comes with a pair of headphones, do those headphones have to be RoHS-compliant? What about if they are sold separately from CD player? Does it matter that the headphones may find re-use after that particular CD player has gone to meet its maker?
- What about accessories that probably won’t find re-use, like cell-phone cover plates? Do those have to be RoHS compliant? If they are sold separately, you would think they would not be regulated by RoHS, as they are just a piece of plastic at that point. But what about the fact that when the cell phone gets thrown away, said cover plate may be on it? What if it’s a counterfiet Brand X face plate that doesn’t comply with RoHS at all? How do you as the cell phone manufacturer prove it’s not your face plate?
Electronicsweekly.com published an (all too short) article on March 23, 2006 about what a mess RoHS & WEEE are already becoming. It can be found at http://electronicsweekly.com/Articles/2006/03/23/38038/WEEERoHSDirectivesdoomedtofail%2csaysconsultant.htm.
Expect to see more like it.