Environmental regulations (e.g. WEEE, packaging waste)

The Directives that are discussed in this section have some small direct impact on RFID, as will be discussed below. Their greater impact is on potential applications using RFID to implement the Directive or to assist in the management of systems associated with the Directive.

Key relationships with other components of an RFID system

There are three standards (the details are discussed below) that have a direct relationship on the use of RFID technology.

  • Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
  • Restrictions of the use of certain hazardous substances (RoHS).
  • Packaging and packaging waste.

It is generally accepted that interrogators and active RFID tags fall into the category of "electronic devices" as defined by the WEEE Directive. On the other hand, passive tags are accepted as being outside the scope. As battery-assisted passive tags are introduced, consideration will need to be given as to how they are categorised. They may depend on the nature of the battery technology. This will present an interesting challenge for interpretation. The Directive states that "If RFIDs are put on the packaging of the electrical and electronic equipment, they are considered to fall outside the scope of the Directive because they are part of the product that is not covered by the WEEE Directive."

However, batteries themselves are probably within the scope.

The RoHS Directive restricts the use of certain toxic materials that were once reasonably common in electrical and electronic equipment, specifically: lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). As the 2002 Directive required that from July 2006 these materials shall not be used in electrical and electronic equipment, the Directive should have been implemented by all product manufacturers. RFID products in Europe shall not contain these materials.

The Packaging Waste Directive means that whereas RFID tags applied in packaging are exempt from the WEEE Directive, depending on their proportionate relationship with the packaging, this Directive may have some minor impact on the use of RFID.

Significant development areas

Although the RoHS Directive has a very narrow definition, the handling of hazardous material within the supply chain has significant environmental and health and safety issues. There are already facilities within the ISO RFID data standards to be able to identify hazardous materials in a general supply chain environment, so that they can be selected and processed separately and in a safe environment.

If RFID tags are applied to electrical and electronic components, then they have the prospect of contributing to systems that can deal with the recovery and recycling of those items. As more and more products carry RFID tags at the item level, such tags are likely to be applied – even incorporated – into the product packaging. While some types of packaging can be easily distinguished from others (e.g. cardboard from glass from plastic), sorting different types of plastic can be slightly more challenging. There is the long term prospect of RFID tags that are applied to high volume plastic packaging to enable such products to be sorted using the basic look-up to sort that type of packaging. A proposal has been submitted by CEN/TC 225 to the Commission to create a CEN Technical Report for sorting spare automotive parts at the end of their life.

There are a number of other Directives that lend themselves to RFID applications in general and specialised supply chains. The ones in the general supply chain are food and pharmaceutical traceability, and in the specialised sectors critical safety components for aircraft and the automotive sector.