Innovation in Europe’s electronics and ICT industry depends on research in technology and manufacturing. Without this investment in a highly competitive marketplace, European companies cannot lead in the development of new products and applications. But Europe’s unpredictable chemical regulations make this investment risky and uncertain.
Several policy instruments ranging from regulation to voluntary measures are seeking to introduce restrictions or bans on substances that are critical for manufacturing electronic products. These policies are subject to different EU regulatory initiatives: the REACH Regulation, requiring manufacturers or importers of chemical substances in quantities over one tonne per year to register them with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), which sets up procedures for the evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances; the RoHS Directive which bans six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. Both pieces of legislation include mechanisms to select additional substances for future restrictions. In addition Ecolabel and Green Public Procurement criteria contain material and chemical substance restrictions.
A typical technology development cycle takes 10 years from start to high volume manufacturing capability. Engineers designing the processes for the next generation of technology need to know now what chemical substances are available to use in the next 10-15 years. Presently, it is unclear how the EU policy makers will regulate a substance, when it will implement its regulations, and how new regulatory burdens will impact the companies involved.
Due to complex global supply chains of the ICT industry and the proliferation of RoHS –like regulation in some 10 plus jurisdictions outside the European Economic Area, DIGITALEUROPE welcomes and promotes global harmonization wherever possible.
A clear application mechanism for exemption or derogation, such as described in Directive 2011/65/EU, should be provided to allow for uses of restricted substances in applications where substitution is currently not technically or economically feasible. This includes novel uses of substances as well as reintroduction of restricted substances through the use of recycled materials. The selection of chemicals for future restrictions should be risk based relative to the application using science based evaluation such as described in REACH.
In order to allow industry sufficient time to comply with new substance restrictions an adequate transition period needs to be established depending on the impact, usage and equipment/technology affected on a case by case basis.