RoHS. What you need to Know

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Firstly, the basics.  RoHS stands for “Restriction of Hazardous Substances,” the culprits in question being such materials as mercury, lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated diphenyl ether flame-retardants and polybrominated biphenyl.

The notion behind RoHS is to reduce the use of these potentially toxic chemicals in electronic items. Initially aimed at consumer/household electronics, the net was ultimately cast wider, to cover all electronic and electrical devices.  Which, of course, brings it onto our radar, here at Hi5.

Restriction of Hazardous Substances complianceA European Union directive (which In itself is slightly different to a full law), RoHS came into affect in 2006.  All PCBs manufactured after that date have to comply with its regulations, which essentially limits the levels of those materials that might be used in the manufacturing of electronics and electronic devices.  Having said that, components used to repair older boards may be exempt (whilst the desire, of course, is to limit the use of these sorts of chemicals, the EU are also keen on recycling older electronics).

RoHS forms part of the broader Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive which, in terms of its acronym, does form the rather delightful (and apt, considering this is to do with wastage) WEEE. This broader directive covers recycling targets for electronic goods however, whereas RoHS is more to do with levels of toxic chemicals within the electronic items themselves.

OK, so far so good, but what does this all mean for electronic manufacturers, and those using our PCBs in their electronics?  Well, a couple of things to think about.

RoHS compliance

Firstly, in terms of packaging, you will also need to be RoHS compliant.  In essence, you need to know what’s in your packaging, as well as the electronics within.  So we’re thinking primarily here of the likes of cadium, which might appear in anything like plastics and paints.  Also think about whether the packaging is intended to be discarded in its entirety, or if there is any part of it – for instance, stickers – that are likely to remain with the electronic item, as the rules differ slightly for each.

Secondly, in the UK you will need to demonstrate you are RoHS compliant to industry regulators when challenged.  Although there is no legal requirement to evidence compliance to consumers, in this current consumer marketplace, many manufacturers do what they can to highlight the compliance of the item to any and every possible safety standard.  Such compliance might even form part of the marketing of the device or, more broadly, part of the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility, publicising the fact they are aware of all regulations, and are happy to comply.

The same attitude trickles down to the consumers who, broadly speaking, tend to think more ethically about the disposal of electronics, at the end of their life cycle.  Such evidence can also be helpful, in terms of dotting the “I”s and crossing the “t”s, if you are planning to export your electronic goods.

In any case, we hope this has cleared up some of the loose ends when it comes to RoHS, and that you can now feel more confident about these regulations, when building your electronic devices.

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