Most companies have RoHS compliance behind them. That's good, because the lessons learned from RoHS will be useful in complying with a far more detailed and extensive piece of green legislation coming this year.
The European Union's Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH) regulation comes into force on June 1. In general, the EU REACH regulation calls for registration of about 30,000 chemicals over a period of 11 years. REACH will impact companies importing to the European Union (EU) or manufacturing in Europe.
There are some basic differences between the new regulation and previous green legislation. First, REACH is a regulation, not a directive like RoHS and WEEE. This means REACH will be implemented in all 27 European member states on June 1, 2007 without interpretations that vary by member state.
Moreover, the REACH deadline is not an ultimatum that requires immediate elimination of substances as the RoHS directive required. Instead, it calls for paperwork a formal filing of information about chemical substances used.
While REACH compliance seems simple, it isn't. Formed after years of battling among politicians, technocrats, industry and NGOs, REACH has emerged as a highly complex and convoluted law that is approximately 700 pages with a brief overview totaling 20 pages.
Understanding the legislation is a challenge
"The biggest challenge is to understand and follow the legislation because it's very confusing," said Anneke Vanhoorelbeke, environmental health and safety (EHS) manager for AMI Semiconductor in Belgium.
In very broad strokes, REACH obligates a manufacturer in the EU to ensure the chemicals it is using in excess of one ton annually are registered with a new central chemical agency set up in Helsinki, Finland. Registration includes supplying data such as chemical types and uses, volumes per annum and test data results.
REACH also obligates companies that import products (known as "articles") to ensure substances inside those products are registered. But it only applies if the article is designed to "intentionally release" a substance during use as in the case of a printer cartridge, for example, that is designed to discharge ink, and the substance is present in the articles at a quantity over one ton annually.
In some cases, other imported articles may obligate a company to register. But if the manufacturer proves that no one will be exposed to the substances during product use, including disposal, no registration is required.
"This becomes very complicated when talking about finished articles and a company's obligations," said Steffen Erler, technical manager for REACHReady, an online tool that helps companies determine if their substances are in the scope of REACH and estimate compliance costs. "Articles have to be defined at the substance level by tracking them through the supply chain."
The complexity of REACH means compliance is different for nearly every company, added Bruce Calder, president of Ageus Solutions Inc., (Ontario, Canada) which has introduced a REACH service that walks a company through the maze of compliance steps.
For instance, a manufacturer could be classified as a downstream user, an importer, or both. Each legal status has a different set of requirements. A company may also be split into five legal entities, each using less than one ton of a chemical per year. Or it could be under one entity, in which case the tonnage is added together and falls under the scope of REACH.
Importers don't have to be manufacturers, Calder pointed out. Mobile phones, for example, are often imported into the EU by service providers such as Vodafone that will want to ensure they are bringing in compliant product.