An Oeko-Institut study of nine exemption extension requests under the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive may bring significant changes to the RoHS compliance landscape. The resulting Pack 22 recommendations primarily focus on the use of lead in the manufacture of in-scope products. The exemptions received extensions of either three or five years, or a timeline for phase-out. Additionally, the report recommended, wherever appropriate, removal of by-category expiry dates and simplification with a cross-category deadline.

Study Findings

The current review considered 16 requests pertaining to nine specific exemptions. These were:

  • Annex III, 6(a): Lead as an alloying element in steel for machining purposes and in galvanized steel containing up to 0.35 percent lead by weight.
  • Annex III, 6(a)-I: Lead as an alloying element in steel for machining purposes containing up to 0.35 percent lead by weight and in batch hot dip galvanized steel components containing up to 0.2 percent lead by weight.
  • Annex III, 6(b): Lead as an alloying element in aluminium containing up to 0.4 percent lead by weight.
  • Annex III, 6(b)-I: Lead as an alloying element in aluminium containing up to 0.4 percent lead by weight, provided it stems from lead-bearing aluminum scrap recycling.
  • Annex III, 6(b)-II: Lead as an alloying element in aluminum for machining purposes with a lead content up to 0.4 percent by weight.
  • Annex III, 6(c): Copper alloy containing up to 4 percent lead by weight.
  • Annex III, 7(a): Lead in high melting temperature type solders (i.e. lead-based alloys containing 85 percent by weight or more lead).
  • Annex III, 7(c)-I: Electrical and electronic components containing lead in a glass or ceramic other than dielectric ceramic in capacitors, e.g. piezoelectric devices, or in a glass or ceramic matrix compound.
  • Annex III, 7(c)-II: Lead in dielectric ceramic in capacitors for a rated voltage of 125 V AC or 250 V DC or higher.

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Recommended Extensions

Two significant exemptions were recommended for lengthy extensions.

Exemptions 6(c) and 7(c)-II were recommended for five-year extensions, the maximum allowable under the directive for any type of products or equipment, except medical devices and monitoring and control instruments. If accepted by the European Commission, the exemptions will be valid until July 21, 2026. Both extensions will now apply to all 11 equipment categories under RoHS.

Exemption 6(a)-I was divided into unique exemptions, now 6(a)-I and 6(a)-II. The former — for lead as an alloying element in steel for machining purposes containing up to 0.35 percent lead by weight — received a three-year extension. The latter — for lead as an alloying element in batch hot dip galvanized steel components containing up to 0.2 percent lead by weight — received a five-year authorization.

Exemption 6(b)-I received a partial extension, where the application is only valid for aluminum casting alloys for the next five years and the concentration limit lowered to 0.3 percent from 0.4 percent, becoming exemption Annex III- 6(b)-III. All other cases were revoked with a phase-out period of 12 months to allow companies to get their supply chains in order.

The study recommends fine-tuning on exemptions 7(a) and 7(c)-I, which will be reworded to apply to fewer use cases. Exemption 7(a) is recommended for a five-year extension, but pertaining to only seven specific applications, and some use cases under the original 7(c)-I are recommended for extension for five years as exemptions 7(C)-V for use in glass and 7(c)-VI for use in ceramics.

Revoked Exemptions

Not all exemptions were recommended for extension. Revoked exemptions carry new final sunset dates, typically 12–18 months from the publishing of the new rules, but longer where deemed appropriate.

Exemption 6(a), which pertains to lead as a steel alloy, is revoked with no phase-out period, largely because the use cases have been redrawn as new exemptions, 6(a)-I and 6(a)-II. The change will impact compliance teams that must keep accurate records.

Lead as an alloy in aluminum up to 0.4 percent by weight stemming from lead-bearing aluminium scrap recycling (exemption 6(b)-I) is recommended to be discontinued across all categories. Companies would have 12 months after publication to find substitutes. A similar exemption (6(b)-II) is set to expire 18 months from publication.

As mentioned, exemption 7(a) is slated to undergo a clarification. The general use exemption will be revoked, with a phase-out period of up to three years across all equipment categories. In general, 7(c)-I will be revoked with the same phase-out period, except for category 9 and 11 uses, as they were set to expire in 2024 regardless.

Purpose of the Study

The study was undertaken and peer reviewed by the Oeko-Institut, the independent body tasked by the European Commission to assess, manage, and advise on technical changes to the RoHS Directive. The directive seeks to phase out the use of 10 restricted substances in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE), but allows for exemptions in certain use cases if the following conditions are fulfilled:

  • When substitutions aren’t scientifically or technically practicable.
  • When the reliability of a device can’t be ensured when using a substitution.
  • When the substitute chemical carries a net negative environmental or public health consequence compared to the original substance.

Exemptions must be limited in duration and reviewed on a regular basis. Historically, exemptions could be qualified based on the category of equipment in question, as defined by the RoHS Directive. The legislation designated 11 categories of EEE to be considered when making decisions. This resulted in a complicated exemption process, in which some substance concentrations were allowed in some use cases but restricted in others.

The Pack 22 recommendations suggest simplifying this process by applying the exemption to uses across categories. This approach, welcomed by the European Commission, should make it easier for companies to manage exemption requests.

Exemption Management

In 2021, an evaluation of RoHS found that exemption management was the most resource intensive part of a RoHS compliance program and recommended further study to streamline the process.

As EEE is a crucial element of global commerce, exemptions are necessary when substitutions can’t be found for specific use cases. However, as RoHS seeks to protect human health and the environment, such exemptions cannot be viewed as permanent. The result is a complex, ongoing requirement for companies to manage their relevant exemptions and file for extensions as necessary.

How Assent Helps

Assent’s supply chain sustainability solution goes deeper than just platform technology — it’s also supported by a global team of regulatory experts. These experts can examine your specific RoHS program needs and advise on the best ways forward, including how and when to apply for extension requests when necessary. Our leading platform efficiently gathers the necessary part and substance data from deep within your supply chain so you have everything you need for a successful exemption application.

Steven Andrews
Regulatory & Sustainability Expert, Product Sustainability

Steven helps companies understand environmental regulations and how they are enforced. He is an internationally recognized expert, with more than 20 years of experience in EU policy development focusing  Read More

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