PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] -- Recently, the European Union has adopted some of the world's strictest policies on e-waste and potentially hazardous chemicals. Economic and environmental impacts of the new regulations will be felt far beyond Europe, says Stacy D. VanDeveer, a visiting fellow at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. VanDeveer co-authored an article this month in the journal Environment with Henrik Selin, an assistant professor of international relations at Boston University, analyzing the ripple effect that is likely to touch electronics manufacturers and chemical companies worldwide.
In particular, three recent E.U. environmental policies are gradually being implemented across the 27 European Union member nations. Two e-waste directives, adopted in 2003, require manufacturers to dispose of consumers' used electronic equipment free of charge and prohibit the export of hazardous waste to developing countries for disposal. This week a new regulation, titled REACH (registration, evaluation and authorization of chemicals) was adopted, requiring registration and selective evaluation of more than 30,000 existing chemical substances, as well as new ones.
The rules affect products including household appliances, toys, computers and many more. "The e-waste problem has grown dramatically," said VanDeveer, "as hundreds of millions of cell phones, TVs, computers and other electronic products containing a host of hazardous substances are consumed and discarded in the United States and around the globe."
The European Union policies are controversial. On the one hand, the rules address growing concern about the ecological and human health risks posed by discarded chemicals and electrical and electronic products. But critics in U.S. government and industry point to the potential for billions of dollars of costs and jobs lost.