ESG and Regulatory Compliance with Engineered Polymer Materials: RoHS, REACH, and Emerging PFAS

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ESG and Regulatory Compliance with Engineered Polymer Materials: RoHS, REACH, and Emerging PFAS

Understanding how to optimize your Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) impact is a commitment that manufacturers keep top of mind while updated regulations and directives are being released. In the synthetic polymer materials industry, the RoHS, RoHS 2, RoHS 3, REACH, and PFAS regulations support the broader goal of improved product safety, environmental protection, and supply chain transparency. 

These are the most common directives and regulations and their intended protections:

  • European Directive(s) RoHS, RoHS 2, RoHS 3 – Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment
  • European Regulation REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals
  • EPA PFAS Roadmap - Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)

At times, directives can change to a regulation, and understanding the difference between the two can be confusing. The difference, however, is a directive defines the objectives and the results that must be achieved. For example, an EU member articulates and then transposes the directive into their national law; this can lead to some minor differences between countries. In contrast, a regulation becomes law across the entire EU the day it becomes enforced, which avoids that problem entirely. However, regulations often change or are revised. For example, by 2023, RoHS had already evolved to RoHS 3, and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) laws began emerging at federal and local government levels. 

The European Union Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) significantly impacts materials used in synthetic polymer components found in electronic devices. Compliance with these directives typically ensures that products remain free from restricted substances to foster product safety and environmental responsibility. RoHS and all its subsequent revisions have been implemented to protect human health and the environment. RoHS restricts lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). These substances can pose environmental risks during the product’s lifecycle and end-of-life disposal.

In January 2013, RoHS 2 was introduced as an extension of the original 2006 directive, building upon the framework by expanding the scope to include additional product categories and refining specific provisions. Changes include the introduction of CE marking for compliant products and the requirement for manufacturers to document conformity. Only four years later, in 2015, RoHS 3, an amendment to RoHS2, not a stand-alone directive, was introduced and added new substance restrictions to the original list, including four phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP, and DIBP).

The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) launched REACH in 2007 to protect human health and the environment from chemical risks. REACH covers a wide range of chemicals used in many industries.   REACH empowers authorities to restrict or ban the use of certain substances deemed hazardous. As mentioned before, these regulations are constantly changing and being updated. In 2018, the REACH directive was updated to include specific information requirements for nanomaterials. Under REACH, U.S. companies that export to the EU have registration and authorization requirements to meet REACH compliance. Failing to adhere to REACH chemical compliance regulations could shut your organization out of doing business in the EU. 

PFAS are artificial chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products worldwide since the 1940s. Some examples include nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, cosmetics, firefighting foams, and products that resist grease, water, and oil. However, laws and regulations restricting PFAS or “forever chemicals” in more than a half dozen states became effective in 2023, including the start of a timeline for a first-in-the-nation ban on PFAS in all products in Maine. Other states, including Maryland, Minnesota, and Michigan, have banned PFAS in items such as rugs, carpets, and food packaging. This even extends to the ink used on the external packaging labels. Other states have created PFAS roadmaps with plans and timelines for when similar regulations will go into effect. Companies working in or with others from these states should be aware of these changes to stay compliant.

At PGC, the engineering challenges with each new part application potentially include specific customer regulatory compliance & certification requirements. As a diligent polymer-based materials converter, PGC conscientiously manages compliance in partnership with customers according to their application-specific requirements.