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UNEP Report: Regulatory Restrictions on Chemicals in Electronics Spurs Innovation

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By IISD’s SDG Knowledge Hub , April 21, 2021

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published an overview of legislative and regulatory approaches for chemicals of concern in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and recommendations for stakeholders involved in tracking and controlling such chemicals.
 
The report titled, 'Chemicals of Concern in Electronics: Review of Legislative and Regulatory Approaches,' was published under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project on Global best practices on emerging chemical policy issues of concern under the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM). The project aims to increase ambition to track and control chemicals along the value chains of electrical and electronic products. Chemicals in products and hazardous substances within the EEE life cycle have been longstanding "emerging policy issues" under SAICM. 

The majority of regulations on chemicals of concern in EEE are in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region; a few local regulations are in force in North America; one regulation is under development in Latin America; and no regulatory approaches were identified in Africa. Countries with relevant regulations in place are either high- or middle-income countries. Laws or regulations with explicit chemicals-related provisions specific for EEE include the EU Directive on the restriction of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic products (RoHS).

The EU's RoHS Directive restricts the use of lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers in various EEE categories. The report highlights regulatory provisions for substances under the Directive, including: household appliances; IT and telecommunications equipment; lighting equipment; most electrical and electronic tools; toys and sports equipment; many medical devices; monitoring and control instruments; and automatic dispensers.

Some jurisdictions outside of Europe have modelled laws or regulations on the RoHS Directive, adapting them to their regulatory environment. 

In addition to Europe, the report looks at regulatory approaches in China, the Eurasian Economic Union, India, Oman, Republic of Korea, Serbia, Singapore, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates, as well as the US states of California and New Jersey. The report notes that regulatory approaches are currently being developed in, inter alia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Thailand, and the US state of Washington. Washington State has published a draft report identifying 11 priority consumer products to be addressed under its Pollution Prevention for Healthy People and Puget Sound Act.  

The report also discusses considerations for electronic waste (e-waste). For example, chemicals of concern in EEE may hinder recycling, due to potential impacts during post-consumer use of these materials. The report underscores that regulatory approaches restricting the use of chemicals of concern in EEE can help address e-waste by minimizing those chemicals' incorporation upstream of the value chain. 

The publication reports that regulations addressing chemicals of concern in EEE have spurred innovation and substitution in the electronics sector. Among its recommendations, the report calls for:

  • accelerating and streamlining regulatory action through regional and global collaboration;
  • developing and implementing a coordinated regulatory approach at the national level;
  • developing and implementing other complementary tools, policies and instruments, such as labelling or voluntary sustainability standards, and sustainable public procurement programmes;
  • developing regulations and policies based on a circular economy and circular business models in the  sector; and
  • developing and providing guidance and building capacity for substituting chemicals of concern along the electronics value chain.

[Publication: Chemicals of Concern in Electronics: Review of Legislative and Regulatory Approaches