Managing hazardous substances

IECQ helps manufacturers and suppliers with their hazardous substance management processes

Take a moment to think about the number of electronic devices you’ve acquired in your lifetime. Can you remember all the computers, tablets, phones, game consoles, cameras that passed through your hands at some point? Not to mention the electric toothbrushes, microwave ovens, hair dryers that you discarded because newer, smarter, more powerful models were launched and you thought you absolutely had to upgrade! Do you ever stop to think that all these devices that you enjoyed for a while only to be replaced by the next generation are your (small) contribution to the ever growing pile of electronic waste (e-waste)?

limit the use of hazardous substances such as lead in electronics
Lead is one hazardous substances that is dangerous to humans and the enivronment alike

Growing demand for electronics = growing e-waste

In the past few decades, the demand for electrical and electronic devices and equipment of all kinds has skyrocketed, and so has the worldwide generation of e-waste. 

The problem with discarding huge amounts of gadgetry lays not only with the metals and plastics they’re made of that are dropped in landfills but also with the number of hazardous substances they contain, among them cadmium, lead and mercury. That in turn may have dire consequences for human health and for the environment. 

What you can do as an individual

Getting rid of e-waste is most certainly a complete utopia. There are ways however to reduce the amount of e-waste. 

As an individual there are some steps you can take. You alone may not make a difference but millions of individuals around the world might. Weigh the pros and cons of acquiring that extra gadget. Try finding multi-function devices. Prolong the life of your devices: protect them from shocks, don’t overcharge them. Buy eco-friendly electronics. Don’t throw away your devices when you get a new one but offer them to charities and social programmes. Have them repaired when possible, rather than discard them. And recycle electronics and batteries (many countries have recycling programmes in place). 

Legislation in place

To address the issue of e-waste in general and hazardous substances in particular, many countries and regional bodies have put relevant legislation in place. 

The European Union (EU) has two directives on restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS) and on waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). WEEE came into effect in February 2003 and RohS in July 2006. Both directives have been revised since: RoHS in July 2011 and WEEE in July 2012. In view of a revision of RoHS, the EU Commission adopted, in January 2017, a legislative proposal to introduce adjustments in the scope of the directive. 

Another EU directive on the registration, evaluation, authorization and restriction of chemicals (REACH), came into force in June 2007. It deals with chemicals and their safe use, so as to improve the protection of human health and the environment through better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. 

EU countries are not the only ones to have drastically limited the use of hazardous substances. Many industrial countries around the world, including Australia, China, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand and the United States, have followed suit and established their own legislation. 

Programmes also exist that allow manufacturers and suppliers of the electronic components used in all modern devices to ensure that their products have extremely limited amounts of hazardous substances or are hazardous substance-free. 

One in particular, set up by IECQ, the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components, has the perfect solution for manufacturers and suppliers who want to produce and distribute hazardous substance-free (HSF) electronic components: the IECQ hazardous substance process management (HSPM) scheme. 

A truly global solution

IECQ HSPM is a technically based management systems approach to implementing and maintaining hazardous substance-free products and production processes. IECQ HSPM was developed in response to component manufacturers’ need to give suppliers the means of demonstrating, through third-party assessment, that their electrical and electronic components and assemblies meet specific hazardous substance-free local, national and international requirements. Many companies today are working to attain IECQ HSPM Certification to IECQ QC 080000, IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components (IECQ System) - Hazardous Substance Process Management (HSPM) System Requirements. The fourth edition, published in May 2017, clarifies how organizations can use IECQ QC 080000 to manage their hazardous substances other than through the outright removal of restricted substances and avoiding their use in products. 

There are numerous advantages to using the 4th edition of IECQ QC 080000. Among them:

  • adaptation to global increasing hazardous substances legislation. For example, additional controlled substances, change control, product recall, as specified by the REACH regulation, the information communication within the supply chain, and notification to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) about substances of very high concern (SVHC);
  • enhancement of documented information requirements in response to the applicable statutory and regulatory obligations. For example, requirements in the re-casted RoHS such as compliance assessment, preparation of technical file, preparation of self-declaration, use of markings, etc. can now be managed through IECQ QC 080000. 

The new edition also aligns with ISO 9001:2015, Quality management systems – Requirements, and has adopted ISO Annex SL defining the new high level structure for all ISO management systems standards. 

The processes used to identify, control, quantify, and report the HS content in electrotechnical products, or their components, must be defined and understood in sufficient detail to assure all relevant interested parties of the HSF status of a product. The processes must be appropriately documented and conducted in a controlled and consistent manner to:

  • facilitate verification of compliance to applicable customer requirements and regulations
  • allow efficient and effective compliance checks
  • facilitate the consistent deployment across organizations and their supply chain
  • allow harmonization of compliance and enforcement methods 

The whole process helps reduce technical barriers for product trading worldwide.

IECQ QC 80000 is available on the IEC Webstore in English, French, Korean, Russian, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese

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