Electronic waste is now a huge and growing problem in our throwaway society. For example, most of the 183 million computers sold globally each year are junked within three years or so. But we also throw away vast quantities of electrical appliances, cell phones, spent batteries, and much else. The latest directive from the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union recognizes the shortage of suitable landfill sites and the many hazardous risks that electronic waste produces. Also, it is known that large volumes of western European waste is shipped illegally to Asian countries, especially to China, where the indigenous poor live dangerously by scavenging for saleable materials.
Titled Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), the directive requires manufacturers of electrical and electronics equipment to eliminate lead, cadmium, mercury, types of chromium, and certain flame retardants from their products altogether, or ensure that they are within accepted tolerances. The problem is addressed at the beginning of a product’s life cycle, ensuring that environmentally harmful substances are eliminated from the production of electronic equipment. This could significantly change the way business and consumer electronic equipment is manufactured and traded, including that used in the printing and packaging industry, of course.
RoHS complements the existing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), which encourages recycling and places the onus on manufacturers to collect and dispose of the products they produce. Of course this introduces complex considerations, like supply chain liabilities and proof of compliance, which suggests that both directives could be difficult to implement universally. Nevertheless, support for this type of action is growing.
California is understood to have similar RoHS legislation, and several US states are reexamining their waste disposal policies. Federally, the USA has yet to introduce legislation regarding the use of hazardous chemicals and the disposal of waste electronics. Pressure from globalized companies selling into Europe and Asia, and who presumably must meet the directives’ objectives, might force the issue. Also, the US Environmental Protection Agency would like to see American industries reduce their use of lead and other hazardous materials. Apparently Australia, Canada and Taiwan will soon follow suit with their own schemes. Japan already has waste disposal legislation on recycling electronic products, and South Korea has a voluntary scheme. Even the Chinese Republic might consider it necessary to tighten up legislation on restricting hazardous substances. Further information, including the likely impact of these directives, is available at www.rohscompliance.info/.
One final thought: The label industry thrives on meeting the demands created by various types of legislation, and the electronic waste directives are no exception. LGInternational, of Portland, OR, USA, is an example. It can supply RoHS compliant labels and nameplates that cover purchasing and manufacturing practices. The company even includes wheeled waste bin labels in standard or customized formats displaying compliance symbols. More at www.lgintl.com/RoHS-WEEE-labels.htm.