The Future of Environmental Management Systems, by Tony Inskip

Between August 2005 and July 2006 two pieces of legislation, the WEEE and RoHS directives will come into effect. The directives are part of Government measures to reduce the impact the UK manufacturing industry has on the environment. Tony Inskip, Director of UK contract manufacturing company, Zirkon Limited, talks about how businesses and customers should be preparing for the effects of the legislation through implementation of EMS.

Environment agency figures show that England and Wales produce, in total, 400 million tonnes of waste per year. Approximately 900,000 tonnes of that is attributable to the electronics industry and electronic rubbish is estimated to be increasing at a rate three times faster than that of municipal waste. At the moment, over 90% of electronic waste ends up untreated in disposal or shredding facilities.

The Reduction of Harmful Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directives cover a wide range of products, including household items, lighting, IT and telecoms equipment. The WEEE directive sets out criteria for the collection, treatment and recovery of waste electrical and electronic equipment, making the producers responsible for the safe disposal of their product. This means that producers will be required to record the volume and types of equipment they place on the UK and EC market, identify what has been recycled and dispose of all WEEE they have sold previous to the legislation coming into effect.

In turn the RoHS directive will facilitate the dismantling and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment by restricting the use of nominated hazardous substances in their manufacture, including lead used in conventional solder. In line with the RoHS directive, after July 2006 products sold in the EC may contain no more than 0.1% lead, mercury, chromium VI, PBB, PBDE and 0.01% cadmium. The legislation aims to reduce the risk to health and the environment through the treatment of waste and a reduction in the use of hazardous substances. Other benefits of the legislation include conservation of raw materials and energy sources, reduced air and water pollution and diversion of material from landfill to recycle and reuse.

Roy Watkinson, Hazardous Waste Policy Manager at the Environment Agency, recently warned that rapidly developing technologies and shorter product shelf-life means that the electronics industry is expected to see an 16% increase in waste production over the next decade. With this in mind, corporate social responsibility, particularly environmental accountability, is becoming an increasingly big issue. It is now quite common that companies looking to outsource their manufacturing processes will not consider a supplier which does not have the ISO 14000 accreditation and appropriate environmental management system in place.

At Zirkon we have always been very aware of the impact our business has on the environment and the importance of minimising that. Our EMS has been in place since 2000 and in April 2002 we achieved our objective of gaining ISO 14000 accreditation. At that time the standard was not being enforced by the government nor was it something customers required. However, the benefits to our business and to the environment were such that we decided to take a proactive approach to the accreditation. The costs involved were outweighed by the ability to reassure customers that we are doing everything within our power to reduce the impact that Zirkon has on the environment.

Many companies considering implementing an Environmental Management System to meet the requirements of the ISO 14000 standard have found that there are costs involved. For example, it means having to paint drains to avoid damage to water courses, to purchase different bins for recycling and using different skips for the disposal of different types of waste along with their associated additional costs of re-cycling. There is also the hidden cost of man hours put into the EMS, both in the research stage when developing and implementing the strategy and once the EMS is in place, extra time spent sorting waste. These costs are minimal though and in the long term most companies have found that there are significant savings to be made through the implementation of a well structured, properly adhered to, environmental management system.

Over the last 12 months we have reduced our electricity consumption by 22% and gas by 33%. This was achieved by turning off lights when a room is empty and setting timers to turn off heating and non essential products when there is no one on site. Also, the reduction of waste means that we don’t have to pay for its disposal so often. These are all small, simple things, but in combination they are very effective.

Businesses should work in partnership with suppliers to reduce the amount of waste packaging they use in shipping components. For example when a product has a large amount of packaging, companies can work with the supplier to try and reduce the materials. An EMS should set out very specific criteria and monthly targets to aim for and ensure businesses are always aiming to improve their environmental record.

When a company eliminates a harmful substance, such as polystyrene, from its packaging, it should try to encourage suppliers to do the same. Although it is not yet possible for manufacturing companies to pick and choose suppliers according to their environmental policies, most suppliers can be encouraged to source environmentally efficient packaging wherever possible. At Zirkon we have found that both our customers and suppliers are becoming more and more willing to work with us on this.

Manufacturers currently reviewing their Environmental Management System should be prepared for the impending environmental legislation. We are currently focusing on the RoHS directive, the main impact of which within the electronics industry will be the restriction of lead within the products and processes. Zirkon’s aim is to have made the change to lead-free by the end of 2004 and whilst our own systems and processes could be ready for the legislation by the end of this year, change over speed will be dependent on various other factors:

Lead-free solder currently requires that the soldering process is carried out at a higher temperature than lead based solder, which raises a number of questions. For instance the Zirkon project team will be looking at how parts with a plastic coating will be affected. The temperature tolerance for these parts has to be identified, and where appropriate, alternatives sourced or processes changed.

Manufacturers will need to measure how current equipment will cope with increased temperature; for example, ovens and hand soldering irons may need to be replaced or adjusted. Reflow ovens will need to be tested to measure the corrosive effect of increased gas emissions at the higher temperature on the stainless steel linings. The increase in solder temperature also means that we will need to look at which PCB finish will be the best for reducing brittleness of joints resulting form lack of lead.

In many cases, component manufacturers and suppliers are using the same part number for both leaded and lead-free components, so identification of parts is likely to be a headache and is an issue we will be raising with our suppliers. Also, because the profile of lead-free solder joints is different, we will be reviewing and reprogramming our AOI and other inspection equipment. Again, because of the different profile of lead-free joints, it is possible that the component pad sizes will need to be changed and screens may need to be changed to incorporate different apertures.

In terms of the well being of staff, it is possible that there will be Health and Safety issues relating to air quality/emissions resulting from the change in process, i.e. increased levels of flux resin used for wetting. Air testing will have to be carried out before and after to evaluate the effects of the change so that we can continue to offer a safe and clean working environment

These are just some of the issues Zirkon has identified which give an indication as to the complexity of the transition to lead-free PCBs, and the multitude of things to consider making sure there are no problems when the change to lead-free is made.

Zirkon has held its first customer advisory session to discuss the implications of the move to lead-free products and to raise the customer’s awareness of the implications of the RoHS legislation on the rest of their product. We also felt that it was important to forewarn the customer that with the introduction of lead-free solder both the physical properties and the appearance of the PCB solder joints will be different to existing solder joints.

In addition, although the WEEE directive does not affect CEM’s directly, it has been incorporated into Zirkon’s advisory sessions, as the company aims to inform the customer and make them aware of the changes that may need to be made to their products and processes in order to comply with both areas of legislation.

Zirkon’s RoHS project team is in the final stages of research now and began trials in July 2003. Once we know what changes need to be made we will report back to our customers and make sure they are kept informed throughout the transition.

Although industry faces a huge challenge in preparing to comply with the WEEE and RoHS legislation, there is no reason why we shouldn’t meet the challenge and come through it unscathed. Updating your EMS will inevitably require some investment, but sufficient planning and open communications channels with suppliers and customers will allow the directives to be seamlessly absorbed into current business practice.

Zirkon is an electronics solutions provider, offering a full range of design, development, manufacture, test and logistics solutions for the electronics industry. Information can be found at


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