The forthcoming EU referendum is probably the most important vote in our lifetime. Unlike general elections or council elections where we have an opportunity to change the government or council, with this vote there will not be an opportunity to have a vote in 5 years time to make a change. So how do we make the right decision when it comes to the vote.
In the Electronics industry we have seen a number of directives from the EU that have had a significant impact. Whilst they have been costly to implement and caused businesses lots of headaches, in the long term there are significant benefits.
WEEE (Waste Electrical Electronic Equipment)
Most people would agree that we cannot go on dumping unwanted electrical products into a big hole in the ground. In the 70’s consumer products were only replaced once they were at the end of their life. In today’s consumer world products are replaced on a regular basis so as to keep up with new technology rather that when at the end of their life. This EU directive ensures that waste products are recycled rather than just dumped, surely a good thing.
RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances)
This directive banned the use of Lead, Mercury, cadmium and other materials in products for sale in the EU. Other continents followed including America and even China. This directive caused more problems for UK manufacturers as not only lead free solders had to be used, but older components would have their wire legs tinned in lead based solders. These older components could no longer be used. Whilst component manufacturers started to produce lead free devices, they also started to discontinue many older devices due to low sales and the cost of converting to lead free. These posed additional problems for OEM’s with whole products having to be designed using compliant parts. Becoming RoHS compliant has been at a cost to UK manufacturers in terms of investment in equipment (solder baths), Lead free solder which is more expensive that lead based and in redesigning products. However there is a major benefit in the long term to removing the use of these substances, after all lead pipes have been banned for many years. Thanks to a EU directive the rest of the world followed.
Another directive not so widely talked about but controlling the use of hazardous substances.
There are other EU directives outside of the electronics industry that have made a positive difference. We have cleaner beaches thanks to the EU bathing water directive and cleaner rivers thanks to the EU water framework directive. Both of these directives have cost money to implement but it is only right that we do not put untreated sewage straight into our rivers which ultimately ends up in the sea.
On the negative side there are directives that are plain crazy. In the quest to reduce energy consumption the motors used in vacuum cleaners will have to be reduced. However it is clear from various sources that this is likely to reduce the effectiveness of removing dirt. If this is the case then this directive should be binned as it is unworkable, we will be manufacturing products that simply do not work.
Another idea that has been muted is to reduce the power of kettles. If you reduce a 3000W kettle to 1500W then it will take twice as long to heat up the same amount of water. Who ever came up with this idea clearly has never studied Physics.
Overall there are more benefits to the UK electronics industry being a member. If we leave we will have to comply with any future directives without a voice, that cannot be of benefit to the UK.