RoHS: 3 Years Later


Amid predictions of disaster RoHS was enacted 3 years ago on 1 July 2006.  The sky was going to never did.  Since then, much more than $1 trillion dollars worth of RoHS compliant electronics have been manufactured with out significant incident.  (Since many manufacturers don't want to have two assembly lines for their products, most electronics sold in non-EU countries is RoHS compliant, hence the >>$ 1 trillion dollar figure.)  I believed the EU helped averting disaster by not being too strict on compliance.  This laxity will likely end with RoHS 2.0 or as others call it RoHS redux.  But at this point, it is unlikely that strict enforcement of RoHS will cause great difficulties.

Being a chronicler of RoHS for almost a decade, I started from the perspective that it was not needed, as no study had shown that lead, or as far as I could determine the other 5 materials, in waste electronics leached into the environment.  However, it finally occurred to me that, as the EU stated, the main purpose of RoHS was to make recycling safer.  Since the ultimate objective was to recycle everything, recycling needed to be safe as it was going to be a rapidly growing business.   I became comfortable with this concept around 2004-2005.

By 2008, I learned of the unintended benefit of RoHS.  In third world countries, electronics are recycled for usable electrical components and scrap metal.  Almost all of this recycling is performed unsafely.  With RoHS compliant products, this unsafe recycling will be done more safely.  National Geographic published an article on this unsettling unsafe recycling topic in January of 2008.  The man in the photo above, from this article, is reclaiming solder to sell to a metals merchant.  It is almost certainly lead containing solder.  He will cook his supper from the same pan that he is using to gather the solder.  In a short time, as RoHS compliant products become dominant, the solder will not contain lead.  I think we will all sleep a little more soundly knowing this.


Dr. Ron