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Environmental System Impacts EU Product Regulations

CITRA Heightens Awareness of Exporters to Europe

New York, Jun 12, 2003

The following article was contributed by Dave Hanson, technical director at the Center for International Regulatory Assistance (CITRA) of Duquesne University Chrysler Corporation Small Business Development Center.

The EU's new system for environmental regulation has major implications for product design, manufacture, transportation, use and disposal.

Directive 2002/95/EC “On the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment” (RoHS) and Directive 2002/96/EC “on waste electrical and electronic equipment” (WEE) came into effect on January 27, 2003. RoHS will be fully implemented on July 1, 2006. WEE will be phased in, with initial application on 13 August 2005 and complete implementation on 31 December 2006. There is also a draft Directive on Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EED) that may be implemented in the future. The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive (PPW) (94/62/EC), has been on the books since December 20, 1994.

These initiatives are being developed to reduce European pollution through a combination of improved waste disposal systems and the development of new product requirements. They are being used in conjunction with the CE marking system that was developed in the mid-1980’s to ensure product safety and to reduce intra-community trade barriers. Both approaches have implications for the standards used in Europe to set the design, manufacturing and performance of products. How do they compare? How will the new environmental initiatives change the ways in which European standards are developed, interpreted and enforced?

The PPW directive requires member states to develop systems for managing packaging and packaging waste. The Directive calls for the development of a system for classifying and governing the use of packaging materials, and specific national targets recovery and recycling rates. Though implementation of the PPW has been limited, the directive has been used to encourage major manufacturers to limit their use of packaging materials, especially materials with special disposal requirements.

The German government has relied on the “greendot” program to certify compliance with the PPW requirements. Carriers may refuse to handle cargoes that do not carry the greendot logo. In the UK and France, smaller companies are essentially exempt from the applications of the PPW requirements through the use of minimum value and tonnage standards to establish regulatory coverage.

The coverage of WEE, RoHS and EED is limited to “electrical and electronic equipment.” However, this is a broad category with elastic boundaries that is expected to expand in the coming years. It includes ten categories of products, which includes large household appliances, computers and telecommunications equipment, other consumer electronics, lighting equipment, electric tools and medical devices. Transportation equipment and industrial machines are the major omissions. However, a separate system covers the disposal of automobiles.

Under RoHS, electrical and electronic equipment placed on the market after July 1, 2006 must not contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybromated byphenyls or polybromated diphenyl ethers. There is a short list of exceptions to this prohibition in the Annex to the Directive. This list includes mercury used for florescent lamps and lead for high temperature soldering. The Commission is directed to periodically review the lists of prohibitions and exclusions.

The WEE directive directs the member states to organize systems for collecting discarded electrical and electronic equipment, with an emphasis on component reuse and recycling. The manufacturers will have to bear the costs of this program under the principles of polluter pays and individual responsibility.

Implementation of the draft EED directive would require manufacturers to incorporate some form of product life cycle pollution assessment in the design documentation for products used in the EU. Implementation has been held up by ongoing debates over the scope of the requirement. In general, industry would like to limit the requirements to process documentation. The environmental community would like to see numerical targets built into the directive.

The provisions of WEE, RoHS, PPW and EED are based on the principles set forth in the Fifth Environmental Action Programme:

  • Risk assessments should be based on the precautionary principle
  • Pollution prevention is preferred over environmental remediation
  • Pollution should be rectified at the source
  • The polluter should pay

These principles could have a substantial impact on the processes for standards development. The “precautionary principle” states that activities threatening human health or the environment should be regulated even if the cause and effect relationships have not been fully established. In effect, the principle shifts the burden of proof away from those who support increased regulation and to those who question it.

Some of the administrative principles are moderated in practice. Despite the principles of “personal responsibility” and “polluter pays,” manufacturers will be able to fulfill their obligations through some form of collective system. The Dutch system provided a prototype for the WEE Directive whereby manufacturers and importers can pay a specific trade association to carry out their responsibilities under the system. The Dutch government has assumed responsibility for collecting discarded equipment. In turn, the association has signed contracts with private companies to process the discards. Manufacturers are assessed the costs for handling their share of the waste stream, plus a pro rata share of the “orphan” products.

There are several provisions of these directives that could have a direct impact on product standards.

“Best available technology” should be used in product design and for the development of recovery systems. Member states shall “encourage” the design and production of electrical and electronic equipment, which would facilitate dismantling, recovery, recycling, and reuse of components and materials. Producers should also be encouraged to integrate recycled material into new equipment. Finally, it is “important” for manufacturers to provide information on materials and components to facilitate the management of treatment, recycling and recovery under the WEE directive.

The implementation of these provisions is likely to have an impact on the harmonized standards that are used for CE Marking. It is not clear how this can be done within the framework of the New Approach. Taken literally, these principles would shift responsibility for standards development back to the member states and away from the three European Standards Organizations (CEN, CENELEC and ETSI). There are no references in these environmental directives to the principles of community wide coordination and the protection of the internal free market that are so prominent in the recitals to the New Approach directives.

With the implementation of the environmental directives, the European Union is staking out a claim for the effectiveness of a bold new framework for environmental regulation. They will have a significant impact on the design, manufacture and documentation of products and on the standards that are developed to guide these processes. The long-term consequences are not clear.


For more information, contact CITRA or call 412-396-6233.

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