_(historical note: this is the second part (the first is here) of an article I wrote for IT Manager’s Journal, which published it at the URL
http://management.itmanagersjournal.com/management/04/12/07/2312226.shtml?tid=84 on December 14, 2004. When I rediscovered the original text on my hard drive, on December 29, 2013, I put it back here with the original date as reference, since that whole website was closed years ago)_
Possible obstacles and dangers
First of all, many EU Member States haven’t started yet to port RoHS and WEEE into local legislation. Different deadlines across the continent could quickly become “obstacles that might restrict trade within the European single market”: of course, this might not be seen as a a problem in several quarters, in and outside of EU. Another area where heated discussions are likely to happen is the exact amounts of each substance that make a product RoHS compliant or not. How much little lead is legally equal to “lead-free”? Also remember that “RoHS compliant” is more than lead-free, whatever that means. The first definition can be only used when all the substances listed in the directive are below their respective limits. With the production volumes of which we are speaking, a difference of a few parts per million directly translates to millions of Euro more to spend in the upgrade of manufacturing plants. Industries will also have to (re)train buyers and technicians, rewrite some tons of product documentation and deploy new internal handling procedures. This is why the European federation of national industry associations of the mechanical, electrical, electronic and metal sectors has requested clarity on the maximum concentrations that will be tolerated.
What about consumers? It will be interesting to find out in 2006 how many products will be rushed to the stores without thorough testing, just to not fall under RoHS. Remaining stocks of non compliant products might also trigger massive discount sales in the same year. Thrifty buyers, however, will also get with the deal the future responsibility to dispose hazardous waste according to the new laws. A whole gray market of non compliant equipment and recyclers is also likely to arise. As far as IT managers are concerned, RoHS in and by itself shouldn’t be much of a concern, if they only buy stuff with the proper labels. WEEE, that is to make sure that everything leaving the desktops or the data center is disposed properly, might be a different matter.
Will RoHS compliant products cost more?
Now to the question you all were asking yourselves since the first paragraph. The answer, according to the first investigations, is no: if the volumes are there, state of the art assembly lines and processes are much more efficient than older ones. We already see everyday how quickly electronic devices depreciate, and RoHS/WEEE shouldn’t change this fact of life. Of course the transition period might reserve some surprises: upgrading the factories will cost lots of money. On the other hand, there is a lot of stuff today which is too bulky, power hungry or otherwise limited: think to laptops and TVs. A menace like RoHS/WEEE might just be the business case to redesign from scratch, in a much more advanced and cheaper manner, ugly products which for any reasons still manage to justify themselves today. Let’s just hope that this doesn’t make even more attractive outsorcing where wages are lower and EEE pollution still ignored.