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RoHS: The biggest headache the industry has ever seen

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According to Newark InOne (Farnell InOne in Australia) president, Paul Tallentire, the environmental regulations coming out of the European Union (EU) are the most significant challenges to face the electronics sector.

“This is the biggest headache the industry has ever seen,” says Tallentire. “I can’t think of another legislative or environmental driver that has had so much impact.”

Tallentire also suspects the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) is just the beginning of a long period of new environmental regulations.

“This may only be the start of it. We may have just entered a decades-long period where the chemical makeup of our components will be a big part of how we do business.”

One of the developments that reveals the extent of the industry’s coming headache is state-by-state environmental legislation being developed across the US.

“In the absence of national legislation, the majority of states are putting together their own legislation,” notes Tallentire.

To complicate things further, 13 countries including Canada, Japan and China are creating environmental laws governing electronic components.

“Twenty-seven states have proposed legislation and there are more than 100 bills in progress. And Ohio is not doing the same legislation as Canada.”

Newark tracks the emerging state-by-state environmental legislation on its website. The site is updated regularly by company lawyers. Tallentire notes that even the degrees of responsibility electronics manufacturers face varies from legislation to legislation.

“There are a lot of flavours of responsibility. In some legislation, the consumer pays a disposal fee when buying a product. In other legislation, the cost is put on the manufacturer.” He notes that sometimes the responsibility is requested, sometimes it’s not required. “In some states, electronic waste collection is voluntary and in some it’s not voluntary.”

One of the potential semi-tonics to help sooth these industry challenges could come in the form of national law to consolidate and ultimately supercede legislation from individual states.

“On July 20, the [US] Congress sat down and discussed what to do about the growing amount of electronics waste,” says Tallentire. “In September they will take it up again when they’re back in session.” He welcomes national regulations that may consolidate the fragmented state legislation.

Tallentire conceded that electronics waste is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“In the US we will dispose of 400 million electronic devices this year.” He also points to a survey in Florida that indicates more than 80 percent of consumers are not aware that computers can be recycled.

In response to the regulatory shock to the industry’s system, Tallentire believes the ability to cope with the new world of environmental regulation has become a competitive factor among companies in the electronics industry, including distributors.

“The sourcing of products have become a competitive factor,” he says. “Our challenge is to make it as simple as possible for our customers. Over the next 18 months, we have to help our customers through a minefield.”

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