Archive for the 'Product Stewardship' 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.

How California is harnessing P2 to make safer products

Monday, October 15th, 2012 by

The latest P2 Pathways column focuses on California’s product stewardship efforts, including a proposed Safer Consumer Products Regulation. Visit http://www.greenbiz.com/business/engage/enterprise-blogs/p2-pathways to see the P2 Pathways archive.

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.

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.

Nominations Open for MI Green Chemistry Governor’s Awards

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011 by

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is now accepting nominations for the third annual Michigan Green Chemistry Governor’s Award. The awards, modeled on the Presidential Green Chemistry Awards program, honor industrial, academic, student, and non-profit efforts to green Michigan’s economy.

Past awardees were recognized for work to advance principles of green chemistry into chemical design, manufacture or use, or promotion activities that support or implement those technologies.

The awards are open to individuals, groups and organizations in Michigan, both nonprofit and for-profit, including academia, educators, nonprofit advocacy groups and industry.

To learn more about Michigan’s green chemistry program or obtain a nomination packet for the Governor’s award, go to www.michigan.gov/greenchemistry.

Entries must be sent by Aug. 5. Awards are presented during the 2011 Michigan Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference. This year’s conference: “Advancing Innovation for a Sustainable Future,” is scheduled Oct. 27 at the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex in Ann Arbor.

For more information, call the DEQ Environmental Assistance Center at 800‑662-9278.

Ten Most Recent Resources Added to P2TagTeam

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 by

P2TagTeam is collaborative tagging effort on Delicious, spearheaded by the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx), to encourage P2 professionals to share the resources they find and bookmark. If you locate a resource that you think would be helpful to other P2 professionals, simply add P2TagTeam tag in the Tags field when you add the bookmark to Delicious. For more background on P2Tag Team, Delicious, and social bookmarking, see P2 is Delicious, my earlier post on the topic.

As an example of the kinds of resources being identified, here are the ten most recent bookmarks tagged for P2TagTeam. You can view the entire collection at http://www.delicious.com/tag/p2tagteam.

  • Green Vehicle Guide | US EPA
  • Ground-Level Ozone Reduction Links – Programs & Outreach – LouisvilleKy.gov
  • B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bag)
    380,000,000,000 plastic bags are consumed each year in America, 1% of them get recycled. Princeton SECN students explores the world of plastic, and non-plastic bags. Learn how bringing your own bag, can help the environment.
  • ScienceCinema, the source for Department of Energy (DOE) multimedia – Home Page
    ScienceCinema utilizes audio indexing and speech recognition technology from Microsoft Research, allowing you to search for specific words and phrases spoken within video files. You can then easily access the exact point in the video where the words were spoken by the presenter. The videos in ScienceCinema highlight DOE’s scientific research.
  • Don’t be left in the dark.: Safely clean up and recycle CFLs.
    EPA brochure on cleaning up broken compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  • The Green Grid
    The Green Grid is a global consortium of IT companies and professionals seeking to improve energy efficiency in data centers and business computing ecosystems around the globe. The organization seeks to unite global industry efforts to standardize on a common set of metrics, processes, methods and new technologies to further its common goals.
  • State of Green Business Report 2011
    The fourth annual edition of our State of Green Business report continues our efforts to measure the environmental impacts of the emerging green economy. We document how well — or poorly — companies are improving their environmental performance despite the challenges posed by the Great Recession, and begin to note promising signs for a sea change in corporate sustainability efforts. The free, downloadable report measures the progress of U.S. business and the economy from an environmental perspective, and highlights key trends in corporate culture in regard to the environment.
  • Check Your Paper
    The Check Your Paper scheme is WWF’s global benchmarking tool for responsible producers and buyers of paper products. It also provides a virtual meeting place for organisations who want to act sustainably and transparently when producing or buying paper products.
  • National Yellow Pages Opt Out Site
    Opt out of yellow pages, white pages & phone books delivery.
  • Thermal Paper & BPA — Trash or Recycle?
    Thermal paper receipts contain BPA. Is it a good idea to recycle thermal receipts?

For more information on P2TagTeam, visit the P2Rx web site or contact Laura Barnes (lbarnes@istc.illinois.edu).

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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