Electronics Makers Plan for Lead Free Products

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 13, 2001 (ENS) - Electronics assembly firms have made a global alliance to plan an early transition to the use of lead free solders in electrical and electronic equipment. Organizers say half of manufacturing in major electronics sectors could be lead free by the end of 2003, well before a proposed European Union phase-out date.

The Global Environmental Coordination Initiative (GECI) was formalized at a July 20 meeting to coordinate research and standardization among component suppliers, sub-assemblers and brand name electronics firms.

"By working toward standardized solutions, we can make it easier for companies to implement lead free manufacturing processes, reducing both time and risk involved," says GECI's Ruben Bergman.

The drive to exclude lead from products originated in Japan, where Sony found it increased market share after offering "lead free" products.


Solar cell light soldering assembly (Photo courtesy Spire Corporation)
A new and powerful impulse has been provided by a proposed European Union law to restrict hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. The draft legislation is about to begin its second reading through the European Union's law making institutions.

As proposed by the European Commission, the directive would have banned all lead containing solders from 2008. Solders are used to join electrical and electronic components.

Earlier this year, ministers brought the prohibition forward one year to 2007. They introduced exemptions for high temperature solders and those used in certain applications, such as servers and important communication networks, but hinted that these would not be indefinite.

GECI now suggests that the industry could achieve substantial conversion to lead free soldering much earlier than foreseen by EU legislators. As part of a "road map" for the voluntary lead phase-out, the body has set out a timeline for half the relevant industry sectors to go lead free. The target date for consumer electronics and mobile telephones is the end of this year, next year for portable computers and 2003 for desktop computers.


Computer parts are held together with solder
Lead can affect almost every organ and system in the body. The most sensitive is the central nervous system, particularly in children. Lead damages kidneys and the reproductive system, according to health officials in many countries.

Under a second initiative GECI is to coordinate similar work on alternatives to halides such as brominated flame retardants. Under its electrical and electronic equipment directive, the EU is planning to phase out bromine containing PBB and PBDE retardants, though the bromine industry is confident some of these will eventually be cleared for use in electronics.

GECI identifies its mission as getting agreenebt on a plan for "an orderly transition of the entire electronics industry to become environmentally compliant with market and legislative requirements." The group says it will facilitate global cooperation aimed at making the transition as smooth and cost efficient as possible.

The next GECI meeting will be held in Tokyo, Japan with a tentative date of December 12. GECI is online at: http://www.hdpug.org/geci/


{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}