The EU Directive on the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, RoHS, bans placing EEE on the market that contains more than agreed levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium. Bans will also cover polybrominated biphenyl or polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants. 

The EU’s directive was adopted with the primary objective of reducing the risks to human health and the environment during the manufacture, use, disposal and/or recycling of EEE.

It applies to a wide range of products, including household appliances, IT and telecommunication equipment as well as lighting and leisure and sports equipment; electrical and electronic tools, toys and automatic dispensers and light bulbs.

The RoHS Directive impacts on the electronics industry worldwide as designers, engineers, manufacturers and others along the supply chain push towards compliance and identifying suitable alternatives.

Not wanting to become a potential dumping ground for non-EU RoHS compliant products, Australian Governments are also looking at the implications, issues and impacts associated with the EU Directive.

To assist this process, the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage has appointed consultants to undertake a preliminary environmental and economic assessment of an Australian RoHS policy within the context of electrical and electronic products and components.

The study will cover several elements including:

• estimation of the size of the issue in Australia, including identification of products and stakeholders affected

• a desktop assessment of the environment risk of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products in Australia

• assessment of the current impact of the EU’s RoHS policy on business (including small business) and consumers in Australia, including likelihood of compliance with EU policy

• estimation of the impact of three possible Australian RoHS policies in terms of economic costs (or benefits) to business and reduction in any associated environment or health risks.

The Australian study commenced in mid-May, with the consultant’s final report being submitted to DEH in July 2006. A key element of the study included an industry wide survey to canvass the views, opinions, concerns and expectations of individual companies currently affected by the EU RoHS Directive, as well as companies likely to be affected by the adoption of a similar policy in Australia. 

Another important aspect of the research investigated industry views and preferences specifically in relation to policy and regulation, and the options of achieving a RoHS type outcome in Australia.

The options canvassed included national legislation with mandatory obligations on EEE manufacturers and importers, a voluntary code of practice with widespread consumer and supply chain education, as well as a ‘no action’ option, whereby the status quo is maintained.

A RoHS type policy in Australia has the potential to dramatically change how designers and engineers approach the specification of materials and substances in a diverse range of electrical and electronic products from refrigerators and toasters through to cordless toothbrushes and electronic toys.   

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