Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Adaptive systems -- disabling the EPA hasn't been completely effective

Economist.com: Environment: New European rules will force electronics firms to eliminate toxic substances and take back and recycle their products

The Bush administration has neutered, knee-capped and decapitated the EPA. This has had consequences, but there are mitigating factors. Since auto makers can't afford two assembly lines, California's emission rules protect the entire nation. (This is a virtuous example of the same phenomenonn that is turning science texbooks into catechisms.) It turns out that the European Union is also helping out:
... The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) legislation, which will apply throughout the EU from July 2006, bans products containing any more than trace amounts of lead, mercury, cadmium and three other hazardous substances. But it is just one of three pieces of EU legislation with which electronics manufacturers must comply. Another is the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, which came into effect in August 2004 and requires manufacturers to take back and recycle electrical products. Finally, the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) directive requires firms to register the chemicals they use in their manufacturing processes.

Although these rules apply only in the EU, their effects are being felt around the world. “We cannot afford to run two production lines,” says David Lear, Hewlett-Packard's director of Environmental Strategies and Sustainability. “We will be producing just one product for the worldwide market.” And component suppliers, wherever they are, must ensure that they comply with the new rules if their parts end up in products sold in Europe.

Similar rules are also being adopted elsewhere. China's Ministry of Information Industry is basing its rules on RoHS. In America, the Environmental Protection Agency has remained quiet on the issue, preferring instead to let the industry regulate itself. As a result, many states are introducing their own regulations. “The EPA is not taking a leadership role, which leaves companies trying to deal with each state individually,” says Mike Kirschner of Design Chain Associates, an electronics-manufacturing consultancy. California's rules, for example, are based on the directives...
In the 7 years prior to 2005 the US dumped about 550,000 tonnes of lead from electronic components. This may yet reverse some of the gains of removing lead from paint and gasoline (it's shocking now to recall gas once had lead in it). It's good to benefit from the distant mercies of the EU.

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