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The World is Changing and Getting Smaller

(May 2006) posted on Tue Jun 13, 2006

The effects of environmental, health, and safety rules enacted on other continents are increasingly being felt by domestic printing companies. Find out what consequences your business might face from new European directives, as well as from home-grown regulations.

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By Marci Kinter, Marisabel Torres

No doubt about it. The world in which we live and work is getting smaller. Increasingly, we find that events occurring continents away impact not only the way we live, but also the manner in which we do business. This article looks at key national and international regulatory issues that the average printer faces today—issues that are changing the landscape of the business environment and forcing facilities to take a more global viewpoint.

International directives affecting the industry

A number of international regulations were adopted recently whose effects on the printing industry will be felt well beyond the borders of the countries that passed them. The most talked about legislation of the past year, which will be coming into force in mid 2006, are complementary European Union Directives that include the Restriction of the Use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE). Though many believed implementation would be delayed because the regulations seemed so stringent, July 1, 2006 remains the date for all products under the scope of the Directives to be in compliance.

The regulations have caused quite a flurry of activity and protests amongst producers and importers of electrical and electronic equipment throughout the world, including industrial printing facilities. Though RoHS is called the "lead-free directive," there are six hazardous substances whose presence is restricted by RoHS: lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

One of the concerns arising from looming RoHS implementation is the lack of a definite means to show compliance. By placing an affected product for sale in the EU market on or after July 1, 2006, producers are stating that their products are compliant, but it is up to the individual member states to carry out market surveillance and conduct checks on products. If they find that a product does not comply with the legislation, the producer will be asked to show that due diligence has been used and they took reasonable steps to comply.

Vague definitions of who the producer of the product is, and who ultimately has the responsibility of compliance—combined with an unclear definition of exactly what due diligence means—have added to the level of frustration felt by those who have to comply with the legislation. In addition to this, individual member states can make the regulation more strict. Some member states have extended compliance responsibility to retailers, distributors, and shops that sell affected products.

Originally thought to be less burdensome—and less scary—than RoHS, WEEE comes with its own set of specifics that have to be met. Complications in ironing out all of these details led to a delay in the UK's implementation of WEEE at the end of 2005. The scope of RoHS actually comes from the products affected by WEEE. Products that contain the same six substances must be labeled properly and recycled according to WEEE.

The Directive uses the idea of producer responsibility for the recycling of the product, and it sets both the collection targets and recovery targets that each member state is responsible for setting. A producer will be required to make a financial contribution to the collection process, as well as the processing of the WEEE itself. The oversight of chemicals will also be impacted by both the move to standardize the information provided by manufacturers, through the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), and the EU's REACH program.

The need for a universal standard in hazard communication for imported substances continues to grow as the economies of the world become more interconnected and the amount of international trade increases. The GHS addresses this need. The GHS is not itself one regulation, but rather a UN-driven framework that consists of harmonized criteria for classifying substances and mixtures according to their health, environmental, and physical hazards.

Elements of GHS may be adopted by a country's government and worked into its existing regulations; the full range of the system does not have to be incorporated. It includes provisions for universal hazard-communication standards, especially for use in Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). GHS was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council in 2003. It is ready for worldwide implementation. Elements of GHS have been adopted by many countries already, but the US does not have a date set for its adoption at this time. Canada is moving to implement it by 2007. With the amount of cross-border activity between the two countries, differences in MSDS formats could prove to be problematic.

There is another heavily debated chemicals regulation in the EU, intended to go into effect simultaneously with GHS. This legislation is known as REACH, which stands for Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals. Under REACH, producers and importers of certain chemicals will have to register them with the EU Chemicals Agency. The chemicals industry is Europe's third largest in terms of manufacturing. This kind of regulation would potentially affect more than 100,000 substances in common use in the EU.

The criterion for REACH was split between industry and environmental groups, with neither side willing to give in to compromise. As of REACH's last round in the EU Parliament, companies will have to replace about 200 of the most toxic substances with safer alternatives. Companies would also have to show that about 1500 less hazardous substances are used with adequate control and suggest potential safer alternatives for them. There is another reading of the proposed legislation scheduled for later this year.

Another development directly affecting printers stems from a recent scare in the EU food industry, which led to calls by the public for stricter regulations on chemical contamination. The printing industry took a hit when traces of isopropylthioxanthone (ITX), a fixative of printing ink used on milk cartons, were found in baby milk after the chemical leached into the product from its packaging. Millions of gallons of the product were recalled, and a new regulation specifically addressing food contamination by ink migration looks like it is in the works.

While these regulations have had their origins in Europe, many other nations are moving forward on their own versions. China, South Korea, and Japan all have their own aggressive environmental manufacturing and recycling laws. China RoHS looks to be stricter than the EU version, though it only applies to imports into the country. The US does not have a similar federal law in place, but individual states are likely to adopt a RoHS equivalency, most notably California, whose law goes into effect in 2007. So far, the state has already declared that products ineligible for sale in the EU once RoHS/WEEE takes effect this July will also be ineligible for sale in CA.

Creating stability at home

As these directives come across the Atlantic and take root in our backyard, it becomes even more imperative that printing facilities operating in the US take full advantage of operational flexibilities. Oftentimes, the regulatory landscape of a given state does not allow facilities to take benefit from rapid market shifts. However, developments in air-permit streamlining, while not an exciting and riveting topic, are allowing businesses to grow with a reduced regulatory burden.

Air permits can take up to one year to issue. And, technically, companies are not supposed to operate their equipment without valid permits. This administrative lag time does not allow businesses to take advantage of key market shifts. However, states are beginning to adopt more flexible permit programs. In 2005, the Ohio Environmental Protection Program adopted a permit-by-rule approach to air permitting. Under this program, facilities with actual emissions of up to 25 tons of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per year can simply apply for a permit. The permit contains minimal terms, conditions, and reporting requirements. And if your facility never exceeds the cap of 25 tons, then you do not need to obtain permits for individual pieces of equipment.

Under this program, facilities in Ohio are free to move equipment in and out at will. The best part is that this permit program applies to digital equipment as well. Yes, digital equipment does require an air permit. Digital is not green, just different. With more than 80% of screen-printing facilities adopting digital technologies, it is imperative that any and all regulatory programs identify digital as a viable printing technology.

Ohio isn't the only state pursuing these streamlined options. This year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will adopt a new permit exemption for printing facilities with actual emissions of less than 10 tons per year. Again, minimal regulatory oversight and requirements are associated with this approach.

Minnesota also has adopted and refined its permitting regulations. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has embarked on an ambitious permit-streamlining initiative that will span several years. Of course, the drivers for the states to adopt such measures do not necessarily include operational flexibilities. In these days of shrinking state budgets, state environmental agencies are seeking to streamline their own internal operations by reducing oversight on smaller sources so that they can concentrate on the areas that cause the greatest environmental impact. It is up to us to take advantage of the states' directions to develop programs that do provide environmental protection and allow businesses the flexibilities needed to compete in this increasing global economy.

Regulations are here to stay

Even though we're making strides toward development of a more refined regulatory landscape, we will never be able to totally move down a different path. Regulations, in the form of specific air-pollution-control programs, are here to stay. These programs continue to impact traditional printing processes and digital-imaging technologies.

State agencies do know that digital printing exists. Walk into any copy shop and you can see the inkjet applications for signage at work. State agencies are asking questions and seeking to understand both the technology and the environmental impact. In 2006, we shall see the South Coast Air Quality Management District issue a rule specifically governing the emissions of VOCs from digital equipment. Other California air districts will follow suit.

The Maryland Department of Environment has a regulation in place that limits the amount of VOCs that a facility operating digital equipment can emit. And, as previously mentioned, all new air-permit-streamlining initiatives cover digital printing as well.

The changes we'll see won't come solely from air regulations. Still at large is a final rule on the handling and disposal of solvent-contaminated wipes—fondly referred to as the Used Shop Towel Rule. US EPA has dusted off the proposal and is conducting yet another risk assessment with hopes of issuing a final rule by 2008.

The US EPA still seeks to make changes to its reporting standards under the Toxic Release Inventory. The Agency did implement changes under this reporting program to streamline and reduce the reporting burden by the regulated community. It is anticipated that even more changes will be proposed this year.

Increasing attention will focus on OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard. The Agency still plans to issue guidance for the small-business community by outlining effective training programs and undertaking an enforcement initiative on MSDSs. Even though the standard has been in place since 1986, it still tops the charts as the number one violation for the commercial printing industry. OSHA still focuses time and resources on ergonomics issues—even without a national rule. However, states are beginning to once again consider adoption of their own ergonomics standards and guidelines.

Stay informed to stay successful

If you do business in today's global economy, you can no longer ignore what is going on outside your door. A successful company takes steps to stay abreast of changes that are occurring and integrates these new programs into the overall fabric of its business plan. Now more than ever it is important for printing facilities to consider all factors—regulatory, employment, safety, and international trade issues—when developing and implementing their plans. The time when printers could operate with their heads in the sand are definitely over.

About the authors

Marcia Y. Kinter is vice president for government and business information with SGIA. She represents association members before federal and state regulatory agencies and the U.S. Congress on environmental, safety, labor, trade, and other issues directly impacting screen-printing and graphic-imaging businesses. Kinter is a member of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology.

Marisabel Torres is the government affairs associate for SGIA. She develops information resources for the industry on a wide variety of topics, including safety and health, the environment, and international issues.


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