Archive for the 'Sustainable Product Design' 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.

Students Honored for Fresh Ideas in Sustainable Electronics

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 by

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative has announced the winners of the International Sustainable Electronics Competition.

The winners in the Product Category (items intended for sale) were:

  • E-waste Meets Farming, smart phones remanufactured as cow collars (Platinum, $3,000) Michael Van Dord, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia;
  • Mion, a multi-purpose dynamo lighting system (Gold, $2,000) Mikenna Tansley, Jiayi Li, Fren Mah, Russell Davidson, and Kapil Vachhar from the University of Alberta, Canada;
  • Cellscreen, a large scale display system made from old phone displays (Silver, $1,000) Sam Johnston, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.

One platinum level ($3,000) winner was named in the Non-product Category (concepts valuable for artistic, educational, policy, or similar content):

  • ENERGENCIA, a children’s’ game encouraging the use of recycled materials and renewable energy concepts by Stephanie Vázquez and Pedro Baños of Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Campus Puebla, Mexico.

The videos of the winning entries are featured on the competition site, ewaste.illinois.edu, the SEI site, sustainelectronics.illinois.edu, and SEI’s You Tube channel, youtube.com/seiatistc.

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: EPA’s DfE Program and Other Initiatives

Thursday, September 13th, 2012 by

Fri, Sep 21, 2012 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM EDT
Register at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4401659851222307840

The New York Pollution Prevention Institute’s EcoHour series and the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable are co-hosting this webinar as part of Pollution Prevention Week 2012, “Safer Chemicals for a Safer World”. This webinar will focus on the EPA’s Design for the Environment Program. It will also look at other EPA initiatives such as the Green Sports Initiative.

Anahita Williamson, Director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute will introduce this webinar.

Presenter:

Bridget Williams is the Outreach Lead for the EPA’s Design for the Environment (DfE) Program. As part of the DfE team, Bridget collaborates with a broad range of stakeholders, including science and policy professionals, product manufacturers, and environmental advocacy groups, to improve the human and environmental health effects of chemical-intensive products. Prior to joining DfE, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the West African country Burkina Faso where she taught high school Physics and Chemistry. Bridget has a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Washington and a B.S. in Chemistry from Colorado State University.

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.

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.

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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