Archive for the 'Electronic Waste' Category

Burning Need: The Search for Less-toxic Flame Retardants

Thursday, September 18th, 2014 by

DfE labelFlame retardants have been in the news again recently, as four health systems announced they would follow Kaiser Permanante’s lead by halting future purchases of furniture treated with flame retardants. As participants in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), these health systems will specify with suppliers that upholstered furniture should not contain flame retardants where code permits. Commonly used flame retardants, particularly halogenated ones, have been found to be persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment, and have been linked to a variety of health problems, including endocrine disruption, cancer, neurotoxicity, and adverse developmental issues among others. These compounds serve as great illustration of the need for source reduction and safer alternatives considerations during P2 Week.

One such class of compounds, polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, were commonly used in electronics, among other things. Back in 2004, a study conducted by the Electronics Take Back Coalition (then called the Computer Take-Back Campaign) and Clean Production Action found PBDEs in dust swiped from computers in university labs, legislative offices, and a children’s museum; many similar studies would further illustrate the ubiquity of these compounds in our everyday environments. That same year, penta- and octaBDEs were phased out of manufacture and import in the US. By 2009, the US producers of decaPBDE had reached an agreement with EPA to phase it out from manufacture, import and sale by 2013. DecaPBDE has been used in television casings, cell phones, and other electronics. EPA’s Design for Environment (DfE) program has conducted a Flame Retardant Alternatives for DecaBDE Partnership, which released a final report in January of this year. Three other DfE partnership programs have focused on flame retardants, underscoring the recognition by the government and industry that many of these substances require replacement with safer compounds (see the DfE partnerships related to flame retardant alternatives for HBCD, those used in circuit boards, and those used in furniture).

Despite efforts to phase out and replace specific flame retardants linked to negative impacts, these compounds continue to be a problem in general. For example, some of the phased out PBDEs may still be in your home or office, if you have older electronic devices, or furniture containing treated foam. People don’t replace items like couches all that often, and those of us attuned to sustainability try to extend the useful life of the products we own as long as possible. This situation is an example of how you really can’t define any action as being entirely “green”–it’s good to keep items longer, but the tradeoff could be continued exposure to toxins. PBDEs and other flame retardants can also present occupational exposure risks in electronics recycling facilities where the compounds can become airborne during dismantling processes. Such facilities will continue to deal with older products that contain phased out compounds into the future; you’ve probably heard about the volumes of old CRT TVs and monitors electronics recyclers deal with, and the issues surrounding the lead within them. Consider that all those old monitors probably have cases with phased-out toxic flame retardants in them as well. And if established procedures are not always successful in preventing lead exposures in recycling operations, as has recently been illustrated, then it’s also possible existing controls may not be effectively protecting workers from flame retardants. I won’t even get into the whole issue of informal recycling of electronics, and the releases of flame retardants into the environment that surely results from such operations.

To make matters worse, some of the early-adopted alternatives have already been shown to be problematic themselves. Organophosphates, for example, have been used for decades as flame retardants in consumer goods, and their use increased as a replacement for the brominated flame retardants which were being phased out. But recent studies have detected higher than expected levels of organophosphates in outdoor air, including sites around the Great Lakes, suggesting that this class of compounds, which also is associated with its own list of human health concerns, could be as persistent, toxic, and as easily transported as the compounds it replaced. One particular organophosphate, known as “tris” or “chlorinated tris” was turned to as alternative to PBDEs, and has received a lot of recent attention as a study conducted by the Environmental Working Group and Duke University scientists was released showing blood levels of tris in toddlers that were on average five times higher than that in their mothers. Since toddlers are more sensitive than adults to chemicals that can effect hormones and metabolism, this finding is particularly disturbing. It’s likely that this result is due to the fact that these compounds so readily leach out of products, like furniture, and get into dust, just as PBDEs were shown to. Since toddlers tend to play on the floor and pop objects into their mouths, they’re at increased risk of exposure to toxin-laden dust than adults. It’s interesting to note that tris was eliminated from use in children’s pajamas in 1977 when it was found to be mutagenic, but it has continued to be used in other products, particularly in the types of foams found within furniture.

The multitude of issues related to these compounds have lead others, besides the health care systems mentioned earlier, to advocate for limiting exposure to flame retardants period, and re-examining their widespread use. The Green Science Policy Institute, for example, argues that flame retardants are used, particularly in electronics, in instances beyond those in which evidence supports the need for external resistance to candle flame ignition. (See The Case against Candle Resistant TVs published earlier this year, and The Case against Candle Resistant Electronics from 2008). Among other issues, they point out that widespread flame retardant chemical use may pose a clear occupational exposure threat to firefighters, since once a fire does start, the by-products released from the burning of materials containing them may cause greater risk to firefighter health than smoke not containing such by-products. They are not the only entity to suggest this (see this article in the Huffington Post, for example).

Incidentally, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were once used as flame retardants, among other things; their production was banned in the US in 1979 due to their toxicity and persistence in the environment. Despite this, we are still dealing with exposure to PCBs and how to properly dispose of materials containing PCBs. Just yesterday (9/17), a workshop addressing PCBs and Their Impact on Illinois was held at the University of Illinois at Chicago and simultaneously broadcast at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), host agency for both GLRPPR and the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. Part of the impetus for the workshop was a recent political controversy over whether to allow a landfill situated over a large aquifer to be permitted to accept materials containing PCBs. Options for safe disposal of PCB contaminated materials remain limited and expensive. Like PBDEs, PCBs fell into the category of halogenated flame retardants; in their case the halogen involved was chlorine rather than bromine.

And like PCBs, other types of flame retardants are likely to persist not only in the environment, but on our list of headaches to deal with in terms of policy and disposal/clean up, well beyond the time at which any specific one of them may be banned or phased out. They represent a current, easy-to-relate-to example of why pollution prevention techniques, such as the employment of green chemistry, green engineering, and design for environment during the product design and development phase are so essential to human and environmental well being.

2012 International E-Waste Design competition Winners Announced

Thursday, December 6th, 2012 by

Winners have been announced in the International E-Waste Competition. The competition is part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

College students and recent graduates from around the world were encouraged to submit their ideas for products and services. The entries were ideas that prevent e-waste generation through life-cycle considerations (E-Waste Prevention Category) or that incorporate e-waste components into a new and useful item (E-Waste Reuse Category). The competition is designed to prompt dialogue about product designs for environmentally responsible computing and entertainment.

The winners were announced during a ceremony on December 4, 2012 at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), the coordinating agency for Sustainable Electronics Initiative. ISTC is part of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois. The ceremony was simultaneously broadcast as a webinar to allow participation of as many students who entered and other interested parties as possible. That webinar will be archived on the ISTC web site at http://www.istc.illinois.edu/about/sustainability_seminars.cfm.

A total of 19 entries were submitted; 10 in the Reuse category and 9 in the Prevention category. Jurors awarded monetary prizes to the top three projects within each category, along with one honorable mention award. The first place winners will receive $3000, second place is $2000, and third place receives $1000. A total of $12,000 was awarded, which has been made possible through generous contributions by Peter Mcdonnell (Friend level) and Dell (Platinum level).

Reuse Category Winners

Platinum ($3000): digitizer. The digitizer is a revolutionary new product meant to revitalize film-based photography and bring it up to date in the digital era. It repurposes working film cameras by using a purpose built physical interface device coupled with proprietary software so that film based photographers can use their camera to capture digital images. The device includes an image sensor and image sensor card that will fit into the space normally occupied by the film and film canister within an analog camera. The hardware and software are upgradable and designed to adapt to most computer and camera formats. The purpose of the digitizer is to reduce future electronic waste of cameras while reusing materials that are electronic byproducts. It does this by reducing the number of film-based cameras that are replaced by digital cameras, upgrading and adapting to new technologies without discarding and replacing currently working devices, and reusing often discarded electronic waste in its manufacture. By manufacturing the digitizer from e-waste components, chemicals such as lead, beryllium, arsenic, and mercury will also be kept out of landfills. The digitizer serves a twofold purpose by meeting the needs of an unfulfilled market of photographers and reducing electronic waste caused by outdated cameras. This concept was submitted by a pair of industrial design students from the University of Wisconsin-Stout: J. Makai Catudio and Ryan Barnes.

Gold ($2000): The Wake-Up Project. The Wake Up Project is a highly marketable, easy to use, smart clock concept that tracks the users wake-up times using software on a reused internet router. The smart clock would also incorporate reused cell phone parts, as well as plastic recycled from e-waste. Using crossover cables connected to a built-in web interface, the user can set a time for the clock to sound every morning. There is an
option to set up an entire schedule with variable settings for each day of the week. The device can be used with Outlook or iCal and the clock program is downloaded from the Wake Up website. The clock has a simple design face with one button that can function as a snooze or to turn the clock off. The Wake Up Project is a realistic solution to the e-waste problem that can secondarily provide consumer education opportunities. The
Wake Up web site would have information about e-waste and how the consumer could play a role in solving the e-waste problem. The Wake Up Project team consists of three industrial design students from the University of Wisconsin-Stout: Danny Kopren, Sam Wellskopf, and Lennon TeRonde.

Silver ($1000): Fluorescence Microscopy Using A Recycled Paper Scanner. This idea proposes the conversion of a commercial flatbed scanner into a fluorescence microscopy instrument, which is widely used to characterize biological events in diagnostic and research laboratories. The optical design allows for the scanner sensor array to be exploited as an imaging sensor without making major modifications to the recycled device. The proposed modifications have been engineered to be inexpensive and simple, yet they bring a high payoff in terms of performance of the scanner as an imaging instrument. Fluorescence microscopy is a cost efficient way to study behaviors of specific cell populations, which can then determine the presence of diseases and the source of the cause of disease. Scanner modified fluorescence microscopy is an even more cost efficient, proliferating means for the study of cell population. This device is meant to eliminate wastes and save lives. This concept was submitted by a recent graduate in electrical engineering (Dustin Gallegos), and two current students, one in biomedical engineering (Lillian Hislop) and the other in general studies (ZhanHao Xi), at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Prevention Category Winners

Platinum ($3000): EverCloud. EverCloud is both a service and product. It is a framework which allows users to personalize their phone with features and styles specific to their taste. By investing the user in the design process, they become emotionally invested in the resulting product. An EverCloud phone is also unique in that it is actually a portal to a data server–information is not stored on the local device. EverCloud is,in essence, a “cloud” phone. All applications and information associated with the phone are stored server side. This keeps the processing requirements of the level of responsibility and care. Since the software resides server side, it is always kept up to date. If problems arise with the device, such as a broken component, it can be replaced with an identical part or even with a new style of part if the user wants to ook or the experience of interacting with the device. As a design solution, the EverCloud system would eliminate waste created by hyper replacement of cellular devices, increase user satisfaction, and begin to shift the paradigm of cellular connectivity towards a sustainable future. This team was comprised of five industrial design students from Auburn University: Sean Kennedy, Christi Talbert, Dylan Piper-Kaiser, Sarah Caudle, and Daniel Piquero.

Gold ($2000): E3: Energy Efficient Electricity. E3 is a home monitoring and manually controllable energy system. Owners of this device have the ability to lower their energy bill while simultaneously prolonging the life of their appliances and electronics. The lifespans of electronic devices are often shortened through overcharging and associated overheating. This is frequently the case with cell phones, for example. E3 would allow power to be turned off to a charger, eliminating overcharging and phantom energy use. Phantom energy is energy used by devices that are plugged in and drawing power even when the consumer is not using them. The E3 can be implemented in new buildings and retrofitted to older buildings. By installing a home meter and specialized outlets (made of recycled plastic and electronic components), the E3 can monitor home devices’ energy usage. By using a smart phone app, the owner may choose devices to disconnect when not in use to avoid phantom energy use, thus reducing CO2 emissions. The app can also determine the best times to use an appliance or device to avoid peak hours. Continued use of the E3 can reduce energy consumption and costs to consumers. The concept was developed by three industrial design students from California State University at Long Beach: John Lee, Soyoung Bae, and Sam Sauceda.

Silver ($1000): loopbook — the future of computing. The loopbook is designed to address the most  important issues in the production and use phase of electronic devices. It is a laptop specifically designed to combat electronic waste by increasing the lifecycle of the device. Where possible all parts contained in the loopbook are constructed from reused and recycled components which will also be reconstituted for future loopbooks. The use of glass, aluminum, and other modular components enable the loopbook to focus efforts on reuse and closing the electronic waste loop. The unique core computing module (CCM), which contains the processor, memory, and storage, is upgradeable and removable. Thus, data and preferences can be carried on to the next step of the computer lifecycle should the body of the loopbook need to be repaired or replaced. The loopbook can perform as both a notebook and tablet, allowing consumers to experience both methods of computing with one device. The loopbook aims to change user behavior by creating a unique and attractive proposition of ownership and support for a new computing future. Loopbook was submitted by a recent graduate in product design and technology from the University of Limerick in Ireland, Damian Coughlan.

Honorable Mention

Sounds Amass. SOUNDS AMASS is an audio amplifying device system designed for public sharing on a rental/lease program. It is specifically engineered to reuse second-hand components from the e-waste stream that can be easily replaced and removed. This makes it is easy to find alternative components and allows for lower overall maintenance costs. There are two versions of the device, Amass-Uno and Amass- Duo. Amass-Uno is blue and features smart phone docking and LED lighting. Amass-Duo is orange and equipped with a detachable megaphone, wireless microphone, and a loudspeaker system. Both models could serve as sound systems for small parties, street performances, small forums, protests, and social gatherings. The devices can be rented or leased from convenient stores and community halls. The consumer can check device availability via smart phone applications and the Internet. These devices are the easy and ecological answer to the social forum future. This concept was proposed by a recent graduate in industrial and product design from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Tai Ka Cheong.

About the Competition

The competition was started at UIUC in the fall of 2009. In 2010, the competition was expanded so students from all over the globe were able to submit their projects and an online video. Each project was judged on the project description and video. The international scope was evident through students who submitted entries from Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Turkey, and the United States. The jury was comprised of a variety of experts, including:

  • Jason Linnell, Executive Director, National Center of Electronics Recycling (NCER)
  • Bill Olson, Director, Office of Sustainability and Stewardship, Mobile Devices Business, Motorola, Inc.
  • Steven Samuels, Former Brand & Design Manager for ReCellular, Inc.
  • Kerstin Nelsen Strom, Ecodesign Section Chair, Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA)
  • Jennifer Wyatt, Environmental Scientist, Materials Management Branch, U.S. EPA Region 5

The videos of the winning entries will be shown on the websites of the e-waste competition at www.ewaste.illinois.edu, www.istc.illinois.edu, and www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu, and on SEI’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/SEIatISTC?feature=watch.

Join Us for a Webinar on Sustainable Electronics Wednesday, Sept. 19

Tuesday, September 18th, 2012 by

Join us tomorrow, September 19 at noon Central time, when Dr. Callie Babbitt of the Rochester Institute of Technology presents “Adapting Ecological Models for Linking Sustainable Production and Consumption Dynamic in Consumer Electronic Product Systems.” Registration for the webinar is available at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/541176247.

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Webinar–”Electronic Waste: Our Problem and What We Should Do About It”

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 by

Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, September 5, 2012, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM CDT. This seminar will be hosted live at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) in Champaign, IL, and simultaneously broadcast online. The presentation will be archived on the ISTC web site (see http://www.istc.illinois.edu/about/sustainability_seminars.cfm for more information and additional webinar archives).

Presenters include William Bullock, Affiliate with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and Professor of Industrial Design in the School of Art and Design, U of I at Urbana-Champaign; and Joy Scrogum, Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Prairie Research Institute, U of I at Urbana- Champaign.

See the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Blog for further information and a link to the online registration form.

2012 International E-Waste Design Competition Announced

Friday, July 6th, 2012 by

e-waste competition logoThe Sustainable Electronics Initiative has announced the 2012 International E-Waste Design Competition. Registration is free and open to current and recent college and university students, from any discipline, throughout the world. Participants submit ideas on products or services that will either prevent the generation of e-waste by prolonging the useful life of electronic products, or that reuse e-waste components in a new product. Entries include, among other components, a brief YouTube video describing the proposed product or service. Registration opens September 1, 2012. For full details, see the announcement on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative Blog.

As part of its continuing partnership with the Sustainable Electronics Initiative, GLRPPR will be co-hosting a series of webinars focused on sustainable electronics research and issues in Fall 2012. Look for more information on the presenters here in the GLRPPR Blog in late August, and check the GLRPPR Calendar for the webinars, as scheduling is confirmed.

Students seek new uses for discarded laptop computers

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012 by

Is a laptop computer useless without a hard drive? A group of University of Illinois students doesn’t think so and is exploring new uses for such discarded laptops.

Laptops used by government agencies and various industries typically have their hard drives removed or destroyed before being sent to recycling. This is done out of concern for data of a secretive, sensitive, or personal nature falling into the wrong hands.

With funding provided by Dell, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) at the University of Illinois is supporting the project entitled “A New Life for Laptops.” The project is being done in conjunction with the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at ISTC. Through this grant, SEI is challenging university researchers and students to envision untapped and underexplored uses for the valuable materials in laptops. The goal is to extend the useful life of these materials prior to recycling.

The project utilizes cross-disciplinary teams of students and research faculty from business, advertising, industrial design, and computer science engineering from the University of Illinois (UIUC) and scientists from ISTC, a division of the Prairie Research Institute.

The research effort is directed by William C. Bullock, Professor of Industrial Design. Others working with the project are Hong Yuan, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Business Administration; Brian Lilly, PhD, Adjunct Associate Professor, Engineering; and Cliff Shin, Associate Professor, Industrial Design. There also will be participation from ISTC research scientists. Graduate and undergraduate students from engineering, marketing, computer science, business, and industrial design will work together as project design team members. There currently are 15 Illinois students working on the project.

“We are focusing on the entrepreneurial use of such laptops,” said Bullock. “We are researching what venture capitalists are doing in this area and looking at the reuse of laptop components.”

The students also are examining the current business model for Dell concerning lifespan of computer components and their use.

“Dell has a recycling program, and it is a good one. What we are looking for is a new vision on how outdated laptops can be used,” said Bullock.

Students got started in the spring semester with the donation of 20 recycled Dell laptops. They were donated by Vintage Tech Recyclers in Romeoville, Illinois. Students will be taking these machines apart in order to experiment with new ideas. Any unused computer parts will be returned for recycling. Final class projects will be presented in May 2012 and results will be posted on the SEI website.

The laptop project will move from a general examination of business and design opportunities to a more detailed focus on one or more specific product opportunities. These will be based on lessons learned and knowledge gained as the research and development progresses. The project will proceed through the three distinct stages during the spring semester. They are:

  • Research – the initial project focus will be on efforts to understand the market and the Dell user needs.
  • Development – the second stage uses insights gained through research in order to create new designs and concepts and present them to Dell for feedback.
  • Finalization –this stage refines concepts addressing materials, technology, and product performance. The final recommendations will be an electronic presentation to Dell.

The students recently had a conference call with Dell officials to discuss the program. The Dell staff members working with the students are Mike Watson, Director of Compliance, and John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist.

Waste from electronic devices is a growing problem around the world. These University of Illinois students hope to offer some possible alternatives to placing old laptops in a landfill.

Deadline Extended for International E-Waste Design Competition

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 by

International E-Waste Design Competition LogoThere’s still time to submit entries for the 2011 International E-Waste Design Competition. The deadline has been extended to 4:59 p.m. CT, May 9, 2011. College students and recent graduates from around the world submit ideas for reusing e-waste to create new and useful products, or for preventing its generation in the first place (e.g. by re-designing an existing electronic device to facilitate reuse or otherwise extend the product life cycle). Entries include, among other elements, a video uploaded to YouTube highlighting the proposed design idea. Six winning teams or individuals (three in each of two categories) will receive monetary prizes. The competition is part of the educational component of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI; www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu). For more information and online registration, see www.ewaste.illinois.edu, or contact Joy Scrogum at jscrogum@istc.illinois.edu or 217-333-8948.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program Director Moving On After 19 Years

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010 by

Dr. Tim Lindsey is leaving the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) to take another job with the University of Illinois.  Dr. Lindsey has been an Associate Director of ISTC and head of the Technical Assistance Program.

He now will be the Director of Energy and Sustainable Business Programs at the U of I – Business Innovation Services (BIS).  He will lead the State’s Green Jobs Initiative and will also direct the State’s efforts to create a stronger local foods industry. Business Innovation Services (BIS) provides customized consulting and training services, as well as public workshops and certificate programs.

“It has been a pleasure to work with Tim,” said Dr. Manohar Kulkarni, PE; Director of ISTC.  “Tim is an innovator; passionate about pollution prevention; and a gentleman.  While his daily presence at the center will certainly be missed, I hope to work with Tim on collaborative projects in his new role.  On behalf of the scientists and staff of ISTC, I wish Dr. Lindsey a roaring success in his future endeavors.”

Lindsey recently received a P2 Champion award from the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable.  He has been at ISTC since 1991 and has directed the program that included work in pollution prevention, green business, energy efficiency, alternative energy, carbon foot-printing, water foot-printing, environmental cost analysis, life cycle analysis, and systems engineering.  He is best known for his pioneering work in developing Accelerated Diffusion of Pollution Prevention Technologies (ADOP2T), a model for technology diffusion that speeds the transfer of better environmental technologies and processes from the bench to the plant floor. Lindsey is the driving force behind the Sustainable Electronics Initiative, and has been the leader in ISTC’s effort to promote and improve biofuels.  In recent years, Lindsey has applied his expertise and passion to address sustainability problems in Haiti.  He has worked with local farmers and non-government organizations to set up biodiesel processors and to train Haitians in harvesting a suitable crop like Jatropha, processing it, and operating reactors to produce a quality bio-fuel.

Lindsey was previously employed at Exxon and worked as an Environmental consultant.  He received his B.S. and M.S. in Environmental Science from Southern Illinois University and his Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Illinois.

We offer Tim our congratulations and best wishes. Those of us at ISTC will greatly miss him!

ISTC Receives Pair of National Environmental Awards

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 by

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has received a pair of national environmental awards. Awards were received for the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) and by Dr. Tim Lindsey.

MVP2 Awards

The 2010 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention (MVP2) awards presented by the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) celebrate the successes of innovators in the areas of pollution prevention and sustainability. These prestigious awards were presented recently at a ceremony in Washington, DC.  ISTC is a unit of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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State E-waste Legislation Update

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 by

Over on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) blog, Aida Williams provides an update on three new state e-waste laws that have recently passed in Vermont, South Carolina and New York.

The SEI has also produced a new resource comparing and contrasting e-waste laws, the products covered within the laws, whether disposal bans are involved, etc. Check it out online or download the chart in PDF format.