Given that the environment and human resistance to hazardous substances is roughly the same all over the globe, why are there so many legal requirements targeting the same issues? The one million dollars question is : Why does a product comply in the European Union (EU) and not in China and vice versa, specifically with the Restriction Of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) rules in electrical and electronic equipment? A preliminary answer may be found in cultural and political reasons.
Are countries going to harmonise their environmental requirements in the future? Only time will tell. However, in order to place your manufactured products into these two majors markets, you must follow any applicable requirements at the moment. The good news is that there is a way to ‘’recycle’’ the data collected from your product’s compliance with EU RoHS regulation, and use it for the China RoHS requirements as well. Prior to doing so, you will need to understand the basic requirements of both regulations.
EU RoHS – A Substance Control Approach
New categories of products, such as medical devices or monitoring and control instruments, now fall within the scope of EU RoHS, since its recast version, also called RoHS II, by Directive 2011/65/EU. By 2019, all electrical and electronic equipment will eventually be included in the scope of the EU RoHS Directive, except for the ones explicitly excluded.
Here is a summary of the requirements that will apply to all those products:
1. Thresholds of Hazardous Substances Concentration at the Homogeneous Material Level.
The EU RoHS imposes limitations for concentrations of lead (Pb), cadmium (Cd), mercury (Me), hexavalent chromium (Cr 6+), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) contained in electrical and electronic equipment. The threshold is of 0.1 % per weight, except for cadmium which is of 0.01 %. It is very important to comprehend that the concentrations of restricted substances are not regulated at the component level, but at the homogeneous materials that make up the component. Therefore, anywhere from few to many homogeneous materials may have to be analyzed, one by one, for assessing a single component, depending on its complexity.
For example, a device as simple as a screw is usually made of two homogeneous materials: the finish, and the core material of the screw itself. Each one of those two homogeneous materials will need to be assessed with regard to the six RoHS hazardous substances. Other more complex devices may be made of plastic, metal, ceramic, epoxy finish, painting, welding etc. that will all need to be analysed. Fortunately, EU RoHS allows restricted substances to be exempted for certain applications or materials. For instance, by exemption 6C, copper alloys are permitted to contain up to 4 % lead by weight. However, several of these exemptions expire at a specific dates and all of them will be reviewed by 2016. For this reason, the expiration dates on exemptions must be monitored as they are subject to reviews. The products declarations of conformity must be kept updated accordingly and only valid exemptions must be declared.
2. Technical Documentation
By the EU RoHS recast version, it is obligatory to build technical documentation in order to show the method for verifying a product’s compliance. Two methods for assessing a product at the homogeneous materials level are available: the chemical analyses on a product’s sample or the documentary review with the product’s parts suppliers. Standard EN 50581 – Technical documentation for the assessment of electrical and electronic products with respect to the restriction of hazardous substances – provides interesting guidelines for setting up the technical documentation. Depending on the product’s complexity and the risk assessment, standard EN 50581 recommends in many cases the documentary approach with the supply chain, which is recognized by both industry and enforcement authorities. Chemical analyses can still be taken as ‘’a last resort’’, only after a careful documentary review, and should focus on uncertain homogeneous material only. Other than the product’s assessment method, the technical documentation must contain specific information documented by procedure, such as the information that needs to be archived as well as the duration for archiving data.
3. EU Product Marking
Since 2013, by labelling an electrical or electronic product with “CE”, the manufacturer is implicitly declaring, among other things, compliance with EU RoHS recast. We should take heed to this.
China RoHS – A Substance declaration Approach
Now, let’s break down the China RoHS requirements. Even if China RoHS seems to be very similar to its ‘’cousin’’, it differs ‘’greatly’’ in its goal. Indeed, instead of restricting the concentration of hazardous substances, the China RoHS thresholds trigger the information that need to be communicated for product’s recycling purposes. Basically, by Chinese RoHS standard 11363-2006 – Requirement for Concentration Limits for Certain Hazardous Substances in Electronic Information Products – the product is allowed to exceed the threshold of 0.1 % for lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, PBB and PBDE and of 0.01 % for cadmium, as long as the manufacturer declares it properly.
1. Notification in the Manual Guide
According to standard SJ/T 11364 – Marking for Control of Pollution Caused by Electronic Information Products – a table in simplified Chinese has to be included in the product manual guide. For each sub-assembly constituting the product (main circuit board, cables, chassis etc.), the manufacturer must specify in the table whether or not any of the hazardous substances exceed the threshold at the homogeneous level.
2. China Product Marking
Every electronic product that is placed into the Chinese market must be marked with its proper pollution control logo, in accordance with the requirements set in standard SJ/T 11364. We have all seen these logos, for instance on the back of a computer’s screen, showing either a ‘’e’’ or a number within a circle. The ‘’e’’ is used if the product does not contain any hazardous substances above thresholds in its sub-assemblies. The number is used when any homogeneous material of the product contains one or more hazardous substances in greater concentrations than the thresholds. This number, commonly 5, 10, 20 or 50, refers to the Environmental Protection Use Period (EFUP). The EFUP being the period during which the hazardous substances contained in the electronic product will not leak or mutate under normal operating conditions. How is the EFUP determined? The answer is found in Standard SJ/Z 11388-2009 – General guidelines of Environment-Friendly Use Period of Electronic Information Products – which provides different methods to calculate it.
Using the EU RoHS Information for Complying with China RoHS
When some requirements, such as labeling, are very specific to either EU RoHS or China RoHS, the data collected with EU RoHS is a great source of information that can be exploited in order to draft the China RoHS table. Indeed, the technical documentation, as requested in the EU RoHS recast version, makes the exemptions tracking easier. It is then possible to locate where those exemptions are, whether in the chassis, in the main circuit board or in any other product’s sub-assemblies, etc. Therefore, it becomes quite easy to use this significant information and to report it in the China RoHS table, by specifying for each sub-assembly constituting the product the hazardous substances exceeding their thresholds. Furthermore, to fully comply wit
h the China RoHS requirements, the table will have to be translated into ‘simplified Chinese’.