Recycling and environmental deadlines loom

July 21, 2005
A survey reveals what U.S. companies are doing in preparation for European recycling mandates and efforts to reduce the amount of toxic materials used in finished products.

Senior Editor

With deadlines nearing for European environmental mandates such as the Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Reduction of Hazardous Waste (RoHS) Directives, MACHINE DESIGN decided to take the pulse of the U.S. engineering community to see if companies are ready for the new regulations. Based on our Web survey, most companies are ill prepared.

The WEEE Directive 2002/96/EC and RoHS Directive 2002/95/EC affect recycling and hazardous substances, respectively. WEEE requires manufacturing companies selling products in European countries to have a recycling program that collects used goods from consumers and disassembles them into reusable, recyclable parts. RoHS tasks manufacturers with reducing the amount of certain substances in their finished products.

With less than a month before WEEE recycling mandates must be met to sell products in some European countries, over two-thirds of the respondents indicate their companies haven't changed the way they design products to meet recycling guidelines. And of those working at companies that intend to comply with WEEE, 41% say their companies are still stuck in the planning phase. Overall, about 42% say their companies haven't even started looking at options. Perhaps these companies don't make products that fall under WEEE or they don't have European customers. Even so, some states in the U.S. have enacted WEEE and RoHS like legislation, and time is running out.

It seems U.S. companies aren't alone. Manufacturers in the U.K. complained loudly enough that the British government extended the August 13 WEEE deadline to December 31 of next year. RoHS, however, still goes into effect, even in the U.K., on July 1 of next year, at least so far.

In the U.S., most companies with WEEE recycling plans intend on dismantling products themselves. A fair number also plan to have distributors or third-party companies disassemble products for recycling. And from the overlap in responses, some companies will handle some dismantling and outsource the rest.

The numbers are similar for RoHS, the directive that tries to wring hazardous materials out of manufactured goods. Over half of the engineers surveyed-indicate their companies haven't tried to redesign around offending substances.

By far, the substance companies say they are working to eliminate is lead. Over 80% are targeting that metal. Next in line is cadmium, 55%. Mercury, common in many switches, is next with 47% of respondent's companies reducing or doing away with it. Hexavalent chromium, a substance used in electroplating and other metal treatments, was mentioned by 42% of the engineers. And polybrominated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), two chemicals used as fire retardants, are being phased out in 34 and 30% of the respondents' companies, respectively.

The vast majority of responses in the "Other" category included everything from analytical lab equipment to X-ray scanning devices.

It seems most companies either needn't worry about their products meeting environmental regulations or are putting it off. (The responses top 100% because some companies are designing new products and redesigning older ones.)

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