Brexit and green electronics

EU flagIn a referendum on 23 June 2016 the voting public of the UK chose to leave the EU with 52% wanting to leave and 48% wanting to remain.  This will possibly have implications on addressing the many negative environmental and social effects of electrical, electronics, and computer technology.

The EU has long been on the global forefront of policies that promote sustainable technologies.  One of the earlier Directives draw up by the European Economic Community on limiting waste led to a Directive on battery recycling. Anecdotal evidence from European tourists in New Zealand suggest that it has produced a culture of battery recycling.  The tourists are astounded that there is no means of easily having their batteries recycled while in New Zealand. Amongst other things the EU is now working on policies that include trying to address conflict minerals and developing the idea of a Circular Economy.

Micro B USB plug

Thanks to the EU the Micro B USB plug is now a common standard on phones, tablets, and e-book readers.

EU policies have had a global reach.  Here in New Zealand I can think of two that have had an effect.  One of them would be noticed by electronics engineers and technicians every time they order a part since they are often specified with the RoHS compliance information. RoHS is the EU Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive limiting the levels of toxic materials contained in products.

Another effect of the EU, which many people can see on a daily basis, is the micro B USB connector used on a large number of mobile phones and other portable electronic devices.  As an attempt to reduce the environmental impact of the large number of incompatible chargers the EU proposed a Directive to force standardisation onto the manufacturers. Most of the manufacturers banded together and responded by developing a Memorandum of Understanding to hamonise portable device charges based on the micro B USB connector.

In correspondence earlier this year with the Minister for the Environment Nick Smith said that there are no plans at present to emulate EU policies such as reducing hazardous materials contained in products (as per the EC RoHS), identification and the possible ban of the importation of conflict minerals, development of a Circular Economy, priority product status, producer responsibility, or product stewardship for electrical, electronic, and computer devices (addition to what is currently being done), adopting a universal charging standard for mobile devices, mandatory battery recycling, or adoption of an Integrated Product Policy.  As a country we are at least twenty five years behind the EU in terms of technology related environmental policy and this is another black mark against so called clean green New Zealand.

Because it is a significant player an exit by the UK from the EU waters down the the strength of the EU bloc and there is also a possibility that other countries may follow. Given the level of disruption, the level of dissatisfaction with the referendum result, and that it is nonbinding it is possible that a Brexit may not actually happen.

With the global environmental, social, and economic issues with which we face there is a strong need for a supranational organisation with governance that is acceptable to every nation-state.




About Alan Liefting

Alan Liefting is the founder, a shareholder, and the Managing Director of Ecotech Services. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily represent those of Ecotech Services Ltd.
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