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Sustainable Development & Foundation


FAQ about the European directive

Frequently Asked Questions


Question 1: Why did the Community adopt this directive?

Very fast growth can be observed in electrical and electronic equipment in nondurable consumer goods, and an equally fast increase in the corresponding wastes (3% to 5% per year). When they are incinerated, these wastes can release gases that are hazardous for health.
In order to contribute to the protection of human health and the environment, the European Union is implementing a policy of convergence of the Member States' legislation in this area, and has adopted two directives:

  • Directives 2002/95/EC relating to Restriction on the use of certain Hazardous Substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS),
  • and 2002/96/EC relating to waste EEE (WEEE).

Question 2: What is the difference between RoHS and WEEE?

  •  The ROHS directive provides for the elimination upfront (as of the design stage) of certain hazardous materials in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).
  • The WEEE directive provides for the selective collection, treatment and other forms of recovery and disposal of waste electrical and electronic equipment.

Both the directives apply to the same type of equipment (Electrical and Electronic Equipment), defined as follows : Equipment which is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly and equipment for the generation, transfer and measurement of such currents not exceeding 1000 volts for alternating current and 1500 volts for direct current.

  • The WEEE Directive 2002/96/EC refers to the product categories indicated in its Annex I A.
  • The RoHS Directive 2002/95/EC applies to electrical and electronic equipment falling under categories 1 to 7 and 10 listed in Annex I A of the WEEE directive and to electric light bulbs and luminaires in households. A detailed list of the products to be taken into account for the purpose of the WEEE directive and falling under the categories in Annex I A is established in Annex IB of said directive.

Question 3: What are the banned substances, and where are they found in EEE ?

The following 6 substances are banned:
Lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)

These substances are used in Electrical and Electronic Equipment:

  • Mercury: in thermostats, sensors, relays in switches and discharge lamps.
  • Lead: solder in printed circuit boards, glass in cathode-ray tubes and electric light bulbs.
  • Cadmium: switches, springs, connectors, housings and printed circuit boards. (see below for more details)
  • Hexavalent chromium: Metal coatings for corrosion protection.
  • Polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl ethers: flame retardants in printed circuit boards, connectors and plastic covers.

Cadmium is used by industry for numerous applications :

  • as an anti-binding agent (cadmium-plated parts have good lubricity);
  • as an anti-corrosive agent (particularly to protect connectors and fixings in conditions where electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is a critical issue;
  • as pigments and stabilizers in paints and plastics;
  • as solders.

Question 4: Do there exist alternatives, substitute materials?

There are many alternatives to cadmium for most applications:

  • tin and its alloys;
  • zinc and its alloys (e.g. zinc/cobalt);
  • ion vapor deposition (aluminium coatings);
  • nickel;
  • epoxide;
  • plasticized coatings that have been developed for specialized use.

Where weight is not an issue, nickel / aluminium / bronze alloys can be used for corrosion resistant connectors. These alloys may increase the weight of each connector by a factor of 2 or 3 in comparison with cadmium-plated aluminium connectors. New materials continue to be developed, many of which exceed the performance of existing cadmium coatings. Pending complete performance coverage, the EC is investigating the possibility of exempting cadmium in electrical contact applications.

Question 5: What is meant by large-scale stationary industrial tools ?

Large-scale stationary industrial tools do not come within the scope of the directive, and it is therefore important to understand clearly what is covered by this expression.

A large-scale stationary industrial tool is a machine or system consisting of a combination of finished products and/or components, each of which is designed to be used only in fixed industrial applications; its installation is performed by professionals, in a given place, within a set of machinery or in an industrial building to perform a specific task.

The products incorporated under these conditions are not subject to the RoHS directive except if they come within the scope of the Directive and can also be used as an autonomous function. It is important to distinguish between large-scale stationary industrial tools and small tools that are finished products, having a direct function, sold in the market as a commercial unit, usable anywhere, and powered from a general-purpose power outlet. For example, a portable electric drill must be in compliance, whereas a machine tool designed for a specific workshop will be considered as a stationary industrial tool and will therefore be outside the scope of the directive.

Question 6: Does the directive apply exclusively to products manufactured and sold in Europe ?

The directive applies to all products sold in Europe, irrespective of their place of manufacture.
Directives such as the RoHS and WEEE directives apply to all the Member States of the European Union. They must be transposed into the national laws of each of those states. According to article 95 of the legal base, RoHS must be transcribed into national laws without any change. WEEE instead defines minimum requirements that each States has to fulfil but can also modify to fit its own regulations.

Question 7: What are the thresholds below which it can be considered that a product complies with the RoHS directive ?

The thresholds to be allowed for are 0.1% by weight for lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium and PBBs and PBDEs. It is 0.01% by weight for cadmium, the homogeneous material in which the substance is located.

Question 8: What is a homogeneous material ?

The definition of homogeneous materials has caused some confusion in the past, but has been clarified in draft guidelines published by the European Commission. A homogeneous material is a single substance such as a plastic, for example the PVC insulation on insulated copper wire. Components such as capacitors, transistors and semiconductor packages are not “materials” properly speaking, but will contain several different materials.

For example, a semiconductor package will contain at least six.

Question 9: Does the directive concern the product families themselves or else the application/conditions of use of those families? In other words, does the directive require that a device be RoHS-compliant irrespective of its use, or only when it is installed in contact with the public?

The directive applies to specified product categories. The interpretation of these lists of categories was widely discussed among industry specialists. The European Commission does not want to take any risk and will preferably accept exemptions where no safe solution exits. Accordingly, marine and aerospace applications are excluded automatically, or to take examples related to Schneider Electric's business, equipment incorporated in heavy machinery, or in fixed installations such as electrical control panels.

Question 10: The effective date of the directive for a given product is related to its placing on the market. When can one consider that a product is placed on the market?

A product is placed on the market by its producer or his representative when it is first made available, i.e. when it is transferred on completion of its manufacture with a view to its distribution or use within the Community.
The concept of placing on the market relates to each individual product, and not to a product type, nor to the launching of a product range.
The product is considered as being transferred either upon its physical transfer or after the transfer of ownership. Transfer of the product is considered as being performed, for example, in the context of a transaction involving a sale, loan, hire, lease or donation.

Question 11: What are the exemptions?

The RoHS directive does not apply to the following fields:

  • Large-scale stationary industrial tools (a machine or system consisting of a combination of equipment, systems or products, each of which is manufactured and intended to be used only in fixed industrial applications).
  • Spare parts for the repair of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) put on the market before 1 July 2006 and replacement parts designed to expand the capacity of and/or upgrade EEE placed on the market before 1 July 2006.
  • The reuse of EEE placed on the market before 1 July 2006.
  • Electrical and electronic equipment which is part of another type of equipment or system (e.g. a car radio).
  • The specific applications of mercury, lead, cadmium and hexavalent chromium indicated below.

Applications of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium which are exempted from the requirements of Article 4(1) of the RoHS Directive (this list is still under consideration by the European Commission)

1. Mercury in compact fluorescent lamps not exceeding 5 mg per lamp.
2. Mercury in straight fluorescent lamps for general purposes not exceeding:

  • halophosphate 10 mg
  • triphosphate with normal lifetime 5 mg
  • triphosphate with long lifetime 8 mg

3. Mercury in straight fluorescent lamps for special purposes.
4. Mercury in other lamps not specifically mentioned in this Annex.
5. Lead in glass of cathode ray tubes, electronic components and fluorescent tubes.
6. Lead as an alloying element in steel containing up to 0.35% lead by weight, aluminium containing up to 0.4% lead by weight and as a copper alloy containing up to 4% lead by weight.
7. Lead in high melting temperature type solders (i.e. tin-lead solder alloys containing more than 85% lead), lead in solders for servers, storage and storage array systems, and for equipment designed for network management in the telecommunications field, lead in electronic ceramic parts (e.g. piezoelectronic devices).
8. Cadmium and its compounds in electrical contacts and cadmium plating except for applications banned under Directive 91/338/EEC (1) amending Directive 76/769/EEC (2) relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations.
9. Hexavalent chromium as an anti-corrosion agent for carbon steel cooling systems in absorption refrigerators.
10. Lead used in compliant pin connector systems.
11. Lead as a coating material for the thermal conduction module C-ring.
12. Lead and cadmium in optical and filter glass.
13. Lead in solders consisting of more than 2 elements for the connection between the pins and the package of microprocessors with a lead content of more than 80% and less than 85% by weight.
14. Lead in solders to complete a viable electrical connection between semiconductor die and carrier within integrated circuit flip chip packages.

At the time of writing (June 2005), in addition to the above exemptions there are eight exemptions being reviewed, nineteen out to tender and beyond that 18 further applications awaiting assessment by the European Commission.
Batteries and storage batteries are not part of the RoHS Directive and are covered by their own legislation.

Question 12: In a European Union member state, what does a producer do?

  • Manufactures and sells electrical and electronic equipment under his own brand;
  • Resells under his own brand equipment produced by other suppliers;
  • or Imports or exports electrical and electronic equipment on a professional basis.