The recent incidents of lead contamination in China-produced consumer goods should remind us that many of our everyday products contain some nasty stuff. In fact, lead is only one of the materials banned outright by the European Union (EU) for use in electronics goods—the others are mercury, cadmium and certain flame retardants. Ironically, China has just enacted similar legislation and several other countries are expected to follow suit.
U.S. manufacturers have struggled to comply with these edicts, developing lead-free solders and other “green” production materials. Additionally, manufacturers have figured out ways to prove their products are compliant by documenting all the materials that go into their products and in what quantity they’re used.
As difficult as this has been, many manufacturers believe a bigger challenge is yet ahead. Within the United States and Canada, environmental and recycling legislation is being introduced on a state-by-state (or province by province) basis. Unlike the EU—a body that can act on behalf of 27 different countries—the U.S. government has not moved toward any national environmental initiatives. This has prompted the electronics industry, for one, to lobby for a single federal law that governs recycling practices. While this particular effort is headed by electronics manufacturers, industry executives point out that restrictions on certain materials—such as those adopted by California—will affect any industry that uses these materials in their the end products. Additionally, companies that think they are exempt from foreign environmental laws because they don’t export should keep a close eye on these developments: some states are using the EU’s law as a basis for their environmental proposals.
Information on these initiatives can be found at:
http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/weee/index_en.htm (European Union)
http://www.eia.org/news/pressreleases/2007-06-13.351.phtml (Electronics Industries Alliance)
http://www.aeanet.org/GovernmentAffairs/gajl_EnvOverview0306.asp (American Electronics Association)