The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive 2002/95/EC, (RoHS), short for Directive on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment, was adopted in February 2003 by the European Union.

The RoHS directive took effect on 1 July 2006, and is required to be enforced and became a law in each member state. This directive restricts (with exceptions) the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment. It is closely linked with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) 2002/96/EC which sets collection, recycling and recovery targets for electrical goods and is part of a legislative initiative to solve the problem of huge amounts of toxic electronic waste.


RoHS is often referred to as the "lead-free directive", but it restricts the use of the following ten substances

Lead (Pb)
Mercury (Hg)
Cadmium (Cd)
Hexavalent chromium (Cr6+)
Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB)
Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE)
Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP)
Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)

DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP were added as part of DIRECTIVE (EU) 2015/863 which was published on 31 March 2015. PBB and PBDE are flame retardants used in several plastics. Hexavalent chromium is used in chrome plating, chromate coatings and primers, and in chromic acid.

The maximum permitted concentrations in non-exempt products are 0.1% or 1000 ppm (except for cadmium, which is limited to 0.01% or 100 ppm) by weight. The restrictions are on each homogeneous material in the product, which means that the limits do not apply to the weight of the finished product, or even to a component, but to any single substance that could (theoretically) be separated mechanically - for example, the sheath on a cable or the tinning on a component lead.

As an example, a radio is composed of a case, screws, washers, a circuit board, speakers, etc. The screws, washers, and case may each be made of homogenous materials, but the other components comprise multiple sub-components of many different types of material. For instance, a circuit board is composed of a bare PCB, ICs, resistors, capacitors, switches, etc. A switch is composed of a case, a lever, a spring, contacts, pins, etc., each of which may be made of different materials. A contact might be composed of a copper strip with a surface coating. A speaker is composed of a permanent magnet, copper wire, paper, etc.

Everything that can be identified as a homogeneous material must meet the limit. So if it turns out that the case was made of plastic with 2,300 ppm (0.23%) PBB used as a flame retardant, then the entire radio would fail the requirements of the directive.

Examples of product components containing restricted substances

RoHS restricted substances have been used in a broad array of consumer electronics products. Examples of components that have contained lead include:

  • paints and pigments
  • PVC (vinyl) cables as a stabiliser (e.g., power cords, USB cables)
  • solders
  • printed circuit board finishes, leads, internal and external interconnects
  • glass in television and photographic products (e.g., CRT television screens and camera lenses)
  • metal parts
  • lamps and bulbs
  • batteries
  • integrated circuits or microchips

Cadmium is found in many of the components above; examples include plastic pigmentation, nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries and CdS photocells (used in night lights). Mercury is used in lighting applications and automotive switches; examples include fluorescent lamps and mercury tilt switches (these are rarely used nowadays). Hexavalent chromium is used for metal finishes to prevent corrosion. Polybrominated biphenyls and diphenyl Ethers/Oxides are used primarily as flame retardants.

2011/65/EU (RoHS 2)

The RoHS 2 directive (2011/65/EU) is an evolution of the original directive and became law on 21 July 2011 and took effect 2 January 2013. It addresses the same substances as the original directive while improving regulatory conditions and legal clarity. It requires periodic re-evaluations that facilitate gradual broadening of its requirements to cover additional electronic and electrical equipment, cables and spare parts. The CE logo now indicates compliance and RoHS 2 declaration of conformity.

In 2012, a final report from the European Commission revealed that some EU Member States considered all toys under the scope of the primary RoHS 1 Directive 2002/95/EC, irrespective of whether their primary or secondary functions were using electric currents or electromagnetic fields. From the implementation of RoHS 2 or RoHS Recast Directive 2011/65/EU on, all the concerned Member States will have to comply with the new regulation.