In our This vs. That series, we've been looking at the differences between two similar products. In today's article, we'll be defining the difference between two industry organizations that monitor the quality of products: RoHS and REACH.
RoHS stands for the “Restriction of Hazardous Substances.” It is a directive that limits the use of potentially harmful substances in electrical and electronic equipment. RoHS was established in an attempt to combat human health problems and environmental damage caused by consumer electronics waste.
Excess waste is a global problem and is especially prevalent as new technology is released more frequently. Since there is a consistent technology cycle, consumers replace and dispose of their used electronics more often. These products end up in landfills or are shipped to other countries where this hazardous waste damages the earth and gives workers in recycling plants heavy metal poisoning.
The RoHS initiative was adopted by the European Union in February 2003 and went into effect on July 1, 2006, requiring each of the EU member states to make it an enforced law. RoHS is sometimes referred to as the lead-free directive, but it actually restricts the use of six substances:
- Lead (Pb)
- Mercury (Hg)
- Cadmium (Cd)
- Hexavalent Chromium (Cr6+)
- Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
- Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)
Under RoHS, these substances can be present in a maximum concentration of 0.1% or 1000 ppm (except for cadmium, which is limited to 0.01% or 100 ppm) in any homogeneous material. Homogenous materials are materials that can be physically separated from other substances. The restrictions apply to electronics and electronic components in the following categories:
- Large and small household appliances
- IT equipment
- Telecommunications equipment (however, infrastructure equipment is exempt in some countries)
- Consumer equipment
- Lighting equipment - including light bulbs
- Electronic and electrical tools
- Toys, leisure, and sports equipment
- Medical devices (currently exempt, pending further research)
- Monitoring and control instruments (currently exempt, pending further research)
- Automatic dispensers
Common products that had to be adjusted to meet RoHS compliance included leaded glass in TV screens and camera lenses, PVC cables (like power cords and USB cables) that used lead as a stabilizer, and leaded solders. It is the responsibility of sellers, not necessarily manufacturers, to ensure that a product complies with RoHS standards.
REACH stands for “Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals.” It is legislation designed to make businesses responsible for proving that the chemicals they use are safe, and to inspire the chemical industry to research new and safer substitutes for hazardous substances.
The legislation went into effect on June 1, 2007, with a plan to be fully implemented within eleven years. Under REACH, manufacturers and importers are required to conduct research on the chemical properties of the substances they use to ensure that they are used safely. They are then required to report their findings to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to be logged into a central public database of hazard information. Once substances are proven hazardous, REACH requires that they're discontinued and replaced by existing non-hazardous alternatives. You can read the current REACH list here.
RoHS vs. REACH
REACH and RoHS are both European Union directives created to limit the use of hazardous substances in product manufacturing but have major differences in terms of scope and implementation.
RoHS restrictions apply only to electrical equipment that falls within the scope of the directive (the ten categories of products listed in the RoHS section). However, REACH restrictions apply to a wider scope: all chemicals, both the ones used in manufacturing and finished products. Very few substances are excluded. There are also major differences in what it takes for each kind of restriction to be put into effect.
RoHS substance restrictions can be put in place if there is a possible risk to human health or the environment, and another material can be used to replace the potentially harmful substance. On the other hand, REACH restrictions can only be put in place if something is proven to damage human health or the environment. For a REACH restriction to go into effect, an in-depth risk assessment must be done, showing the effects of the substance over the course of its life cycle and exploring possible substitutes for its use. As we can see, RoHS and REACH have similar goals of preventing damage to human health and the environment, but they achieve those goals in different ways.