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Report Advises Extending Cadmium Exemption for Use in Televisions and Other Displays

A recent report supporting the exemption of the use of the toxic metal cadmium in quantum dots in electronic displays under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive was published by the Öko-Institut for Applied Ecology. The report concludes that “an exemption should be granted for three years”.

The Öko-Institut is the consultancy service advising the European Commission on exemptions from the substance restrictions in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE).

Hong Kong manufacturers of electronics may be relieved to learn that the Öko-Institut, in its report, has proposed a three-year exemption to allow the use of cadmium-based quantum dots in electronic displays. The consultants have justified the proposal by claiming that the benefits of a product’s energy efficiency when using cadmium-based quantum dots outweigh the harm.

In contrast, the consultants have not proposed to extend the exemption to the use of cadmium-quantum dots on lighting appliances as they were unable to justify its use across the whole market for lighting appliances.

In accordance with the RoHS Directive, the use of cadmium in virtually all EEE has been banned from use in Europe. Cadmium is generally believed to be a toxic and carcinogenic substance which is the by-product of zinc and copper production. Cadmium is widely used in display lighting and illumination applications in the form of quantum dots.

Common examples of such display lighting and illumination applications are LCD screens, which are used in televisions or desktop computers.

In general, whether made of cadmium or otherwise, quantum dots are tiny fluorescent particles that have optical properties which are used in televisions and other displays. They improve the quality of the image colour so are therefore very appealing to consumers. Quantum dots also reduce energy consumption of appliances by more than 20%, which is said to lead to potential savings of more than €3 billion in energy costs per year and prevent the emission of 7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

Cadmium is one of six highly toxic substances that have already been banned from use in Europe, in virtually all electrical and electronic equipment, under the RoHS Directive. The RoHS Directive qualifies cadmium as the most hazardous toxic heavy metal – its maximum allowed level is ten times lower than that of mercury or lead.

Hong Kong manufacturers of electronics will be aware that under the 2011 recast RoHS Directive, the use of cadmium in televisions and lighting was exempted until 1 July 2014 by Exemption 39 of the Directive’s Annex III.

Despite the exemption, multinational and EU-based organisations have been researching and developing innovative and more cost-effective cadmium-free products. An issue for the Commission in succeeding with its proposal to extend the exemption period for the use of cadmium in quantum dots in electronic displays is the rate at which technology is advancing, in comparison to the length of time for rules and exemptions to be drafted and adopted within the EU legislative bodies.

Hong Kong traders may recall that, in January 2015, following requests to extend the exemption, the European Commission proposed extending the exemption for cadmium from the RoHS restriction until July 2017.

The European Commission argued that cadmium-free quantum dot technology, i.e. a reliable technical alternative, is not available as yet. The Commission based its proposal on the Öko-Institut for Applied Ecology’s report published in April 2014. In that report, the Öko-Institut estimated that prototypes of cadmium-free quantum dots would not be available until 2019, with commercialisation following only in 2021.

On 20 May 2015, the European Parliament rejected the Commission’s proposal to extend the period during which cadmium can be used in illumination and display lighting appliances such as television sets and computer monitors under the RoHS Directive. At that time, the proposal was rejected because the Parliament considered that the Commission was “manifestly incorrect” and that safer alternatives were, in fact, readily available.

At the time of rejecting the Commission’s proposal to extend the exemption, the MEPs said that “A whole line of TVs based on this [cadmium-free quantum dot technology] has become widely available on the Union market, by well-known major retailers”.

Hong Kong traders should note that the European Parliament’s rejection of the Commission proposal to extend the exemption did not amount to an automatic “ban” on this application of cadmium.

Despite the exemption’s expiration, in accordance with Article 5(5) of the RoHS Directive, the exemption will remain valid until the Commission has made its decision on the renewal application. The new report by the Öko-Institut is not binding and the Commission’s response is awaited.

Please click on the following link to view the Öko-Institut report.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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