China RoHS and China WEEE
Now that we're all ready for RoHS and WEEE, perhaps we can take a few deep breaths and start thinking about China's draft regulations. Often called China RoHS, the draft document from China's Ministry of Information Industry starts where the EU directive left off and expands the scope considerably. In addition, the National Development Reform Commission (NRDC) is drafting a recycling initiative dubbed China WEEE by outsiders.
The most current information on these regulations is coming from the international law firm of Holland & Knight. In particular, partner Tad Ferris has been giving numerous presentations on this topic. He presented an overview and analysis of both regulations at the International Association of Electronics Recyclers annual summit in New Orleans on May 16-19, 2005.
Reading the draft of China RoHS is actually quite easy. The unofficial English translation is clearly written and reasonably well translated. The 25 articles on 4 pages are much more understandable than the EU directive ever was. A number of points stand out.
One note - although article 11 clearly states January 1, 2006 as the starting date, others have named July 1, 2006 as the correct effective date. No one has identified the source of this new date. However, I do tend to trust it since these organizations have direct ties to Chinese authorities and appear to deliver the most current and comprehensive information about China's regulations.
Another big player in the regulatory arena, Design Chain Associates (DCA), has created a web page dedicated solely to China RoHS. Early in October, DCA announced that the Chinese had released their RoHS-like legislation in draft form for industry review. There was just one catch: it is available only in Chinese.
The Chinese government has no interest in providing an official English translation any time soon. Unfortunately, the comment period of 60 days started on 28 September 2005. It runs out on 27 November 2005. DCA is producing an English translation of the Chinese document. It was not yet available on their web page as of 1:30 pm 28 October 2005.
The DCA page does provide a summary of the law taken from the notification document and translations of previous drafts. The law is very similar to RoHS, but with disturbing differences. It proposes a catalogue of covered product classes, to be reviewed annually versus the RoHS 4-year review cycle. To the RoHS six restricted materials, China added the phrase "other toxic and harmful substances" with no further definition. There are product marking requirements that include toxic material content and recycling symbols. Packaging has separate marking requirements. Finally, as with all earlier drafts, there are no exemptions.
When it comes to regulatory compliance, the general rule is that the most stringent regulations win. That means products must be designed to the most restrictive regulations in order to sell into that market. The other markets are then free, as far as regulatory compliance goes, because the less stringent requirements have already been met. At this point, it appears that China will be in the top position. Customer compliance demands have a way of becoming intertwined and reflecting all existing regulatory requirements. Thus, it will become essential to design to China RoHS and China WEEE to sell electronics goods internationally. Furthermore, since WEEE is inherently local, WEEE compliance schemes will become universal around the globe.
Lest you think the regulatory feeding frenzy is over, consider this news. Just as Europe was first to introduce RoHS and WEEE to the world, China is only the first Asian country to produce their own environmental regulations. By 2008, expect similar laws from Taiwan and South Korea, according to a Recycling Policy News Brief from Raymond Communications.