Over ten years ago, the European Union adopted the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS). Although accepted in February 2003, it didn’t go into effect until July 1, 2006. The initiative is part of an effort to decrease the effect of electronics on the environment. It restricts the use of six hazardous materials used to create electrical and electronic equipment, lessening the amount of toxic waste created by these products. While the initiative undoubtedly decreases the harm done to humans and the environment, it also burdens companies who used the restricted materials for years in the creation of their products. RoHS reduces stress on the environment, but adds stress to the shoulders of electronics professionals worldwide, including those in the connector industry.
RoHS limits the toxicity of waste by limiting the use of toxic ingredients, which helps protect the environment and industry workers. The six substances restricted are lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), hexavalent chromium (Cr6+), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). The substances can only be present in minor amounts: 0.1% or 1000 ppm (except for cadmium, which is limited to 0.01% or 100ppm). The maximum limits are imposed on the homogeneous material of the product (any substance that could be separated mechanically, in theory). Although RoHS underwent small changes in July of 2011, the essence of the initiative has not changed and the updates only improved regulatory conditions and legal clarity.
However, despite its good intentions, RoHS has had an adverse effect on businesses. In complying with the directive, many manufacturing companies have had to compromise on the quality and reliability of their products. Some solders compliant with RoHS have the tendency to crack, wire splice connector warp, or delaminate, and they may have moisture sensitivity. Plus, in order to find adequate substitutes for the banned materials, many companies have had to spend more time and money finding materials.
Plus, many are concerned that RoHS hasn’t addressed the issue of toxic waste in the best possible way. For example, only 2% of lead consumption goes toward electronics. 90% goes toward batteries, which don’t have a lead restriction. Plus, only 4% of lead dumped into landfills is from electronics, while 36% comes from leaded glass used in monitors and TVs. Compared to the battery and leaded glass industries, toxic waste produced by electronics is a minor problem.
It is also important to remember that many electronics (like connectors) are used in programs that help the environment, like solar panels and wind turbines. If the quality of the products used in these industries is hurt by RoHS, the directive is hurting the environment in its effort to protect it.
While its intent is good, the RoHS directive has been causing many headaches in the electronic and manufacturing industries.