Rules banning certain hazardous substances are set to be extended to more types of electronic and electrical equipment, including talking teddy bears and lab equipment, following a vote by MEPs on Wednesday. The update to EU legislation, agreed with Member States, also foresees a review that could consider adding new substances to the current blacklist.
Discarded and broken electrical appliances and electronic gadgets are the EU's fastest-growing type of waste. Hazardous substances in these goods can pose risks to health and the environment, particularly if they end up in incinerators or substandard recycling facilities in developing countries.
The vote (640 in favour, 3 against and 12 abstentions) formalises MEPs’ approval of an agreement recently reached with Council on updating existing legislation for the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) in electronic and electrical equipment (EEE).
Jill Evans (Greens/EFA, UK), who steered the legislation through Parliament, commented "the revised rules adopted today will help make electronic goods safer, and reduce the release of hazardous substances into the environment. While we clearly would have preferred even stronger legislation, with explicit restrictions on new substances, the final compromise represents a clear improvement on the current situation.”
Only specified electronic and electrical equipment need not conform
MEPs successfully argued for all EEE to be covered by the rules, unless specifically excluded from their scope. Phones, fridges, TVs and most other EEE found around the home are already covered by existing legislation. But extending the rules' scope will mean some products, such as some talking teddy bears and lab equipment, will need to conform for the first time, following a transition period of eight years. Photovoltaic solar panels, fixed industrial machinery and military material are among equipment that will remain outside the rules.
Reviews and exemptions for substances
The updated legislation will not immediately add new substances to the current blacklist of six, which includes lead, cadmium and mercury. The Commission will however conduct a review three years after the legislation is published. At the insistence of MEPs, nanomaterials are cited as due for further scientific scrutiny.
Specific uses of blacklisted substances may be permitted if this is in the overall interest of health and consumer safety and if there are no reliable alternatives. Any such exemptions will however be time-limited and subject to a stricter reapplication process.
Separate legislation on EEE waste management
Discussion continues between Parliament and the Council on an update to parallel rules on managing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE).