Join Joy Scrogum of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center‘s Sustainable Electronics Initiative to learn about topics related to electronic devices and greener procurement. She’ll discuss purchase avoidance, reuse, repairing instead of replacing, supply chain issues (e.g. conflict minerals), and resources to help make more responsible choices. This webinar is a presentation for the IL Green Governments Coordinating Council Procurement Subcommittee, but is open to other interested parties. The webinar will take place from 9-10 AM (Central time) on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Register at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/890717127.
At the beginning of Pollution Prevention Week back in September, I wrote about Agbogbloshie, in Accra, Ghana, and how it has been included on a list of the ten most polluted places in the world. In that previous post, I referred to Terra Blight, a documentary contrasting the use and perceived disposability of electronics in our Western culture versus the lives of those in Agbogbloshie, particularly a 13-year-old boy, who make a living gleaning precious materials from cast off electronics. I will continue to highly recommend that film (if you’re at the University of Illinois you can check the DVD out from the library).
For an immediate glimpse into life in Agbogbloshie, check out a short documentary film (around 9 minutes) on this region, directed by Sam Goldwater, called Regolith. This video was recently made a “staff pick” on Vimeo.
In case you’re wondering, “regolith” is “a layer of loose, heterogeneous material covering solid rock. It includes dust, soil, broken rock, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.” (Wikipedia) The use of the term, which is so often applied to the surface of the Moon or other planets, seems appropriate. Earth’s surface in Agbogbloshie has been transformed by humanity’s short-sighted, wasteful tendency to design and deploy products without whole life cycle considerations, into a nightmarish landscape, simultaneously alien and uncomfortably familiar.
The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) coordinates a consortium on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign of faculty, staff, and students involved with sustainable electronics research, educational opportunities, and operations. See the Campus Consortium page of the SEI web site for further information. For September we had hoped to arrange a presentation by a student group to update us on a printer cartridge recycling program in the College of Business, but this was not possible due to scheduling conflicts. In lieu of giving an update at a meeting, the students have graciously provided information for us to share via the SEI Blog.
At the foundational meeting of our campus consortium late last year, T.J. Draper, a student in the College of Business, described setting up a recycling program for the cartridges in the College, through a company called Funding Factory. These efforts were part of the “Green Initiative” of a registered student organization called the Illinois Business Council, otherwise known as the BC. Although T.J. is no longer leading the BC Green Initiative, the current student leaders confirmed that the printer cartridge recycling program is ongoing. They provided the following summary of their efforts, along with information for other offices or RSOs interested in setting up a similar program:
“The Green Initiative collects electronic waste and ships it to an EPA verified remanufacturer in Pennsylvania, Funding Factory. Electronic waste consists of printer cartridges, cell phones, and other small electronics. The program primarily collects printer cartridges and toners as these are what our College of Business offices use the most. These cartridges are mostly remanufactured and sold to third parties such as Staples, to be sold again to consumers. Any materials that are not remanufactured are recycled. The data on the amount of materials remanufactured vs recycled can be found on the online sustainability report.
We currently have have 6 offices in the college of Business we collect from on a biweekly basis. On average we raise between $90 to $125 per semester, however our goal for this semester is $150. Last academic year we collected $222.70 total. All of the funds go to a charity of the New Member Class’s choice. Last semester we donated $97.90 to the Illini Service Dogs, a organization on campus.
Funding Factory was chosen because it is an organization that pays for the recycled material as well as provides free shipping, free packages to ship in, and incentives throughout the year. It is an easy to use system that allows for a greater return. Funding Factory also tracts the amount you have collected and reports the impact that was made on the environment as mentioned above. For example, in total of the materials we have collected 552.31 lbs have been remanufactured and 79.74 lbs have been recycled.
A great incentive Funding Factory also has is the ability to promote to other organizations. For every non-profit we recommend we will receive $50. With that being said, if you do find other organizations interested we would love it if you told them they were recommended by us and to follow these steps when signing up.
1. When they are registering, they should select Referred by Participant.
2. They should enter our code: 336843
3. They must send a package within 6 months of registering. ”
Thanks so much to Meagan and Joe of the BC Green Initiative for providing this overview of their printer cartridge recycling efforts! The code provided in their summary above would be the “Referral ID” for the BC Green Initiative when registering for a Funding Factory account at their web site.
Of course, other programs besides Funding Factory exist for entities interested in recycling electronic waste as a fundraising activity. ECO-CELL, TerraCycle, and EcoPhones are just a few other examples of such programs. If your RSO or office sets up an electronics recycling fundraiser, please contact me to share the information with our campus consortium. NOTE: Only personally owned electronics, or items not tagged as part of University inventory (such as printer cartridges) should be considered for such programs. University owned electronic devices must disposed of in accordance with established policies; see the Campus Consortium page and scroll down to “2/19/14: Campus Electronics Recycling Procedures” for more information. Also, if you’re aware of other such fundraising programs, contact me and I’ll consider them for inclusion on our Take Back and Donation Programs fact sheet (I’m working on revisions currently).
Names of businesses are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements.
Happy P2 Week, Everyone! If you’ve never heard of this celebration, P2 stands for Pollution Prevention, and P2 Week is celebrated from September 15-21, 2014. P2 Week is in fact celebrated annually during the third week in September, and according to the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR), it’s “an opportunity for individuals, businesses, and government to emphasize and highlight their pollution prevention and sustainability activities and achievements, expand current pollution prevention efforts, and commit to new actions.” Check out their site and P2 Week Tool Kit, as well as the US EPA’s Pollution Prevention Week page for tips on preventing pollution at home and work.
Preventing pollution is of particular importance when it comes to considerations of sustainable electronics design, manufacture, use, and disposal, given that an annual report by the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland included for the first time in 2013, Agbogbloshie, in Accra, Ghana, as one of the ten most polluted places on Earth. The Top Ten Toxic Threats: Cleanup, Progress, and Ongoing Challenges 2013 edition “presents a new list of the top ten polluted places and provides updates on sites previously published by Blacksmith and Green Cross. A range of pollution sources and contaminants are cited, including hexavalent chromium from tanneries and heavy metals released from smelting operations. The report estimates that sites like those listed in the top ten pose a health risk to more than 200 million people in low- and medium-income countries.” Other notoriously contaminated sites on the list include Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the Citarum River in Indonesia, and the heavy concentration of tanneries in Hazaribagh, Bangladesh.
The Agbogbloshie site has been the focus of a lot of recent media attention due to the extensive environmental degradation caused there by informal electronics recycling; it is the second largest electronic waste processing site in West Africa. If you would like to see the extent of the pollution, and get a feel for the lives of the people who work in the area, some of whom are children, I recommend the film Terra Blight. (See my previous post on this film’s inclusion in a sustainability film festival on campus, and the LibGuide that accompanies the films from the festival. The film can be checked out from the Prairie Research Institute Library by those on the UI campus or via interlibrary loan.) A number of striking photo essays have also been published, including one earlier this year in the Guardian by photographer Kevin McElvaney. The film and photos show us the stark consequences of endless manufacturing advances and consumer quests for upgrades. Gadgets that aren’t responsibly recycled may end up in landfills, or worse–in places like Agbogbloshie where the poor try to earn an honest living processing the waste to salvage precious materials using whatever means are available, including fire or rocks to hammer open lead-laden monitors.
It is the lead spilled into the environment through informal recycling that earns Agbogbloshie its place on the Top Ten Toxic Threats list, though certainly other toxins are released from the electronics processed there. From the report’s highlights: “Agbogbloshie is a vibrant informal settlement with considerable overlap between industrial, commercial, and residential zones. Heavy metals released in the burning process easily migrate into homes, food markets, and other public areas. Samples taken around the perimeter of Agbogbloshie, for instance, found a presence of lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in soil. The US EPA standard for lead in soil is 400 ppm. Another set of samples taken from five workers on the site found aluminum, copper, iron, and lead levels above ACGIH TLV guidelines. For instance, it was found that one volunteer had aluminum exposure levels of 17 mg/m3 compared with the ACGIH TLV guideline of 1.0 mg/m3.”
Lest you think the answer to this tragedy lies exclusively in preventing export of unwanted electronics from the first world to the third, increasingly developing countries are becoming sources of e-waste themselves. Indeed, the Top Ten Toxic Threats report notes “Ghana annually imports around 215,000 tons of secondhand consumer electronics from abroad, primarily from Western Europe, and generates another 129,000 tons of e-waste every year.” Even if it weren’t true that developing countries are also sources of e-waste, cutting off certain flows of such waste ultimately shifts problems from one place to another, resulting in different, yet still complicated issues. The leaded glass in CRTs, for example, is becoming increasingly difficult to process, as the demand for its reuse in the creation of new CRT monitors is dwindling. Currently only one manufacturer of CRT monitors remains, in India. Within the US states struggle to find ways to deal with massive amounts of CRT glass from obsolete TVs and computer monitors, leading to controversy over proposed uses (such as alternative daily cover material in landfills) and nightmarish stories of CRT glass stockpiles being left for authorities to manage after recycling operations go out of business.
The point is that the only long-term solution to stopping environmental degradation in places like Agbogbloshie, and the struggles to find safe and widely accepted end-of-life management options for electronics and all their components is to practice true pollution prevention–through source reduction, modification of production processes, promotion of non-toxic or less toxic materials, conservation of natural resources, and reuse of materials to prevent their inclusion in waste streams. This will by no means be easy, nor will the changes necessary happen overnight. But it’s work that must be done, and done by ALL of us, in whatever way we interact with the electronics product lifecycle. Designers and manufacturers must learn and practice green chemistry and green engineering. Consumers must become aware of the sustainability issues surrounding electronics and make more informed choices–including buying less by extending the useful lives of devices as much as possible. And recyclers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and consumers must all work to ensure that materials from products that have reached the end of their first intended life be collected and reclaimed for use in new processes. Electronics are something we all use, at home and at work, in one form or another. And through images and statistics like those from Agbogbloshie, we understand that environmental and social impacts of our industrial world do not truly go “away” any more than waste itself does.
To learn more about pollution prevention, visit the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) web site. GLRPPR is posting P2 week information all week on its blog, including two posts contributed by SEI related to electronics. Check out the GLRPPR blog on Tuesday (9/16/14) for source reduction tips for electronics consumers, and on Thursday (9/18/14) for information on flame retardants and electronics.
If you’re like most people, you probably have an old computer, laptop, or TV stashed in your basement, closet, or garage. It’s important to recycle these devices responsibly, as they contain both valuable materials (e.g. gold, copper, rare earth elements, etc.) and substances that could cause human and environmental health problems if improperly handled during disposal (e.g. lead, mercury, flame retardants, etc.). In fact, it’s against Illinois state law to dispose of certain electronics in landfills, so these items cannot be put in your household trash. To learn more about the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling & Reuse Act, see the Illinois EPA web site and the full text of the legislation at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/95/SB/PDF/09500SB2313lv.pdf.
Where to take your stuff
Residents of Champaign County, IL are lucky to have multiple options for recycling of unwanted electronics. See the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for the names and locations of local businesses that offer electronics recycling year-round, complete with contact information and any restrictions that apply.
Note that there are two local businesses, Best Buy at 2117 N. Prospect and Habitat ReStore at 119 E. University Avenue, which accept old cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors. Best Buy accepts up to 3 TVs per household per day in store for free, provided screens are less than 32 inches in diameter. For CRT TVs over 32 inches and flat panels over 60 inches, Best Buy will haul the devices away from a customer’s home for free, only if they purchase a new TV from Best Buy. If a purchase from Best Buy is not made, the recycling service is still available, but for a $100 fee. Habitat ReStore accepts televisions or CRT monitors if a voucher is purchased for in-store use at a cost ranging from $10 to $50 per television or CRT monitor recycled, depending on size. (Goodwill will accept only flat screen TVs that are in good working order.) See the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for complete details. Recycling of CRT TVs and computer monitors is becoming more difficult. Susan Monte, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, explains some of the reasons that electronics recyclers have stopped accepting TVs or tube monitors. “In Illinois, the statewide system for recycling and/or reuse of electronics items discarded from residences requires electronic manufacturers doing business in Illinois to participate in ‘end-of-life’ management of these electronic products. At this time, electronics manufacturers have met their pre-established quotas for pounds of electronics to recycle/reuse for the fiscal year, and they have stopped paying electronics recycling companies to recycle electronics items.” Televisions and cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors comprise nearly half of the electronics items brought to the residential collections. Expenses incurred by electronics recycling contractors to responsibly recycle televisions and CRT monitors far outweigh revenue. In fact, Champaign County had planned to host an electronics recycling collection events for residents on October 11, 2014, but that event has been canceled because of the cost issue for the recycling contractor now that the manufacturer quota has been met. Monte says, “If electronics manufacturers doing business in Illinois continue to meet early quotas for pounds of electronics items collected, we may potentially plan for one or two Countywide Residential Electronics Collections to take place in the Champaign-Urbana area next spring.” Be sure to check the county recycling guide to see if dates of upcoming events have been added (if so, they’ll be featured at the top of the document); alternatively you can always call the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission at 217-328-3313.
For information on battery recycling, check ISTC’s Battery Recycling LibGuide at http://uiuc.libguides.com/battery-recycling/cu.
For fluorescent lamps and CFLs, see the City of Urbana—”Where Do I Recycle It?” page at http://urbanaillinois.us/residents/recycling-program-u-cycle/where-do-i-take-it and the City of Champaign Recycling guide at http://ci.champaign.il.us/cms/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Recycle-guide.pdf. Alternatively, you can order pre-paid mail kits (options for both CFLs & tubes) from
- Veolia Environmental Services (RecyclePak): https://recycleabulb.veoliaes.com/ordering?pid=1690
- Rebulb: http://rebulbllc.com/products/
Can you repair devices or pass them on?
If your unwanted electronics still function please consider passing them on to friends or relatives, or donating them to an appropriate charity. If they have minor flaws or damage, check the iFixit web site to see if there are repair guides that you can follow to return get your device running again. (Yes, you can do it! I’ve had students work on iFixit guides as class projects. You don’t need to be a tech expert to repair something you own!) It’s important to extend the useful life of electronic devices for as long as possible before recycling them, because of the huge investment of human and natural resources that go into their manufacture in the first place. For example, did you know that the majority of energy used in the life cycle of a computer is in its production, not in the time it’s used by a consumer? (See http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1299692&tag=1 and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652611000801 for research on this subject.)
When in doubt, give Joy a shout
So be on the look out for county electronics collection events in the future, and in the meantime, check out the local business in the county recycling guide to avoid the lines. And if your device is unwanted rather than broken, or only slightly damaged, consider giving it a new home or repairing it before it’s sent for recycling. If you aren’t sure where or if you can recycle a device, you can also contact me at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. I’ll help steer you in the right direction.
Many thanks to Susan Monte for the update on the county collection event and for the county’s press release, from which her quotes are taken. Mentions of businesses in this post are for information only and should not be construed as endorsements.
In my last post, I noted some updates that had been made to the U.S. Federal Legislation page on the SEI web site, including information on the debate surrounding cell phone kill switches (scroll down to “Legislation and Policies that Apply to Electronics in Other Life-cycle Stages”).
I’ve added information on the two current State laws requiring cell phone kill switches to the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. Minnesota was the first to pass such a law, in May 2014, and California just became the second a few days ago. Both laws will go into effect on July 1, 2015.
A kill switch is a means to render a device inoperable if stolen, the idea being that such a function would reduce the rising problem of cell phone theft. Pressure for such legislation has been on the rise as reports of violence tied to cell phone theft have increased and received media attention. Similar, voluntarily implemented functions have been previously made available by some manufacturers, leading some to say that legislation is unnecessary. Concern has also been expressed by opponents about whether such disabling technology could be used with ill intent with the manipulation of hackers, the example of law enforcement officers having their phones rendered inoperable in a crisis being offered as a worst case scenario.
As I point out on SEI’s federal legislation page, one potential outcome of proposed kill switch technology often ignored by the media and general public is the exacerbation of the growing e-waste problem. Kill switches are meant to render a device completely inoperable so that thieves could not reinstate the device’s capabilities. This means a perfectly functioning phone would be rendered useless, except as fodder for recycling and materials reclamation. That in itself has lead some to argue that kill switch legislation won’t work to thwart crime–as long as there’s some value, however minimal, for the materials included in what would then be an expensive paperweight, someone will be willing to steal the device, those with this viewpoint claim. For me, however, the broader issue has been the discouragement of reuse. Lots of materials and energy go into creation of our electronics–much more energy, for example, is expended in the manufacturing of electronics than is expended in their use. From a lifecycle perspective, it’s particularly important to extend the useful life of these devices. Would kill switch legislation, which may or may not end up discouraging crime, end up making it more difficult for useful products to be used to the full extent possible, I’ve wondered? What if someone misplaced their phone, had it deactivated, and then found it or had it returned by a Good Samaritan–only to find it useless? What if the authorities apprehended a thief and were able to retrieve and return a phone, again, only to leave the owner to the task of responsibly recycling and replacing it?
The encouraging thing about California’s legislation is that it requires that the “technological solution” to rendering the device inoperable upon theft be reversible, “so that if an authorized user obtains possession of the smartphone after the essential features of the smartphone have been rendered inoperable, the operation of those essential features can be restored by an authorized user.” How all of that will work, and work smoothly, remains to be seen. But this shows that legislators have heard concerns like the ones I expressed above from others, as well as arguments regarding hackers and terrorism, no matter how far fetched those might actually be, and have put some thought into countering unintended consequences.
At the end of the day, that’s what sustainability is really all about–trying to avoid and mitigate the unintended consequences of our actions and choices.
The US Federal Legislation page on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) web site has been recently updated. Updates include:
- A link to a fact sheet providing an overview of the recent revisions to the CRT rule.
- A link to the update to the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship (NSES; update published Aug. 1). The report focuses on the major achievements under the NSES as of July 2014, as well as the impacts of improved electronics stewardship and the significance of upcoming commitments within the NSES.
- A link to a recent press release from the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling stating further support for the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act (RERA) related to combatting counterfeit electronics.
- A new section on legislation and policies related to other life cycle stages of electronics (beyond end-of-life, which is the focus of most legislation in the US). This includes information on the cell phone unlocking act signed by the President on Aug. 1, and information on cell phone kill switches. Information is also provided on conflict minerals and Section 1502 of the of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act (HR 4173).
Visit the SEI Law & Policy section for full details on these US Federal measures, as well as information for the US state and local level and international policies. To suggest additions or revisions to the Law & Policy pages, contact Joy Scrogum.
Recent Headlines: Occupational Risks for US Electronics Recyclers; Counterfeit Electronics; & Tracking E-waste ExportsJoy Scrogum | August 1, 2014
It has been another interesting month for sustainable electronics. Here are a few highlights:
NIOSH highlights occupational health & safety risks for US electronics recyclers
On July 24, Resource Recycling announced the release of a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report that I have long awaited, having heard about the study at a conference several months ago. The report details results from analyzing air, surface, and employee blood samples from an undisclosed US electronic scrap recycling facility. The study also entailed interviews with employees to determine possible improvements for health and safety procedures. From the report: “The Health Hazard Evaluation Program received a request from a health and safety manager at an electronic scrap recycling facility…We evaluated air, surfaces, blood, and urine for metals…We also evaluated noise exposures. We found overexposures to lead, cadmium, and noise. Some employees had blood lead levels above 10 ug/dl. We provided recommendations to prevent these exposures to employees, and to prevent unintentionally taking metals home to family members.” Lead was detected on clothing and skin of workers, and on various surfaces throughout the facility.
We often hear about risks associated with informal recycling operations in other countries in the media, but seldom, if ever, hear about risks to US workers in formal recycling operations. We also tend to take for granted that people know about the dangers of exposure to lead because of lead-based paint and the outreach associated with that—it’s really stunning to read this report and realize how big an issue the lead associated with electronics reclamation can be. We can’t assume that recycling workers are properly trained on the hazards and how to avoid contamination. A 13-point list of recommendations was drawn up to respond to NIOSH’s concerns, including updating the ventilation system, segregating CRT glass breaking areas and a remodeling of facility work stations and procedures to ensure worker safety. All facilities that handle electronic waste would do well to review this list and consider their own situations.
E-waste exports and counterfeit electronics
On July 15th, the Coalition for American Electronics Recycling issued a press release stating that defense and technology experts expressed support for the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act, or RERA (HR 2791, S.2090) at a recent Congressional briefing. Their reason? The export of non-functioning or untested electronics is allegedly providing feedstock for counterfeiters in countries like China. Scrap microchips may be washed and relabeled to look new by such counterfeiting operations. These counterfeit electronics could present threats to safety and security, if they were to be used like new components in equipment and fail. The example given in the press release is that of an airplane–you wouldn’t want an older, component, sold as if it were new, to fail mid-flight. Panelists argued that RERA would combat the problem of counterfeit electronics in defense supply chains by requiring the domestic recycling of nonworking, non-tested e-waste. Plus, it could create US jobs.
Global e-waste generation and export
Finally, a new report published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, entitled Tracking the Global Generation and Exports of e-Waste. Do Existing Estimates Add up? shows that nearly a quarter of e-waste discarded in developing countries flows into just seven developing countries in 2005, with potential risks to environmental and human health in those countries. Those developing countries included China, India and five West African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Liberia. Researcher Knut Breivik and colleagues analyzed data from many studies to determine more reliable estimates than previously reported, highly variable estimates for global e-waste flows.
It’s a big week for local Makerspace Urbana. One of their projects, founded by member Colten Jackson, has been featured in several blog posts this week, including one on SolidSmack.com by Simon Martin, a post for Wired by Margaret Rhodes, another on the Atmel Corporation blog, and still another by Nara Shin on Cool Hunting. On the 1st and 3rd Thursday of every month, from 7-9 PM, Champaign-Urbana area Makers can head over to the group’s space in the basement of the Independent Media Center to participate in the Electric Waste Orchestra, or EWO, turning discarded electronic parts into musical instruments.
Extending the useful life of electronic products through reuse is an important step to take before recycling, if possible, because so much energy and resources (both natural and human) go into the production of electronics in the first place. You might immediately think of donating computers to schools, letting your child inherit your old smartphone, or replacing the cracked screen on your iPhone as ways to extend electronic product life. Those are all excellent examples, but Jackson and his fellow Makers have found a more creative way to give even the most obsolete electronics a new lease on life, turning them into fantastic looking musical instruments that create haunting sounds through truly ingenious interfaces. For example, in the following YouTube video, Jackson demonstrates the use of old hard drives cobbled together in a shape reminiscent of a keytar, hooked through an Arduino to sound generation software. The instrument has an old number pad for manipulating pitch.
I can’t help but think this project could encourage lots of people to both overcome their phobia of tinkering with electronics (thereby teaching them they really do have the power to repair) and consider, perhaps for the first time, the tragedy of sending sophisticated electronics to the landfill or recycling center before their time. And even those who aren’t technically inclined could enjoy brainstorming on such projects, because who doesn’t like music? Bravo, Makerspace Urbana! Maybe a new electronic music genre will emerge (Junktronica, perhaps?).
For those who are neither musically nor technically inclined, Makerspace Urbana also hosts another project than can extend the useful life of electronics. On Sundays from 2-4 PM, their Computer Help Desk provides “free personal computer diagnostic and repair services to the community.” Through “collaborative repair” folks learn to troubleshoot and fix their computer problems alongside an more experienced volunteer.
But Makerspace Urbana certainly isn’t all about electronic device-related DIY. Check out their web site for full information on all their projects and services.
In June 2014, the State Electronics Challenge hosted a partners-only webinar on how to use the EPEAT product registry. The recording of that webinar is now available to everyone online, and if you’re in any way involved with electronic equipment purchases for your organization (or just for yourself), I highly recommend checking it out at http://stateelectronicschallenge.net/Webinars/How-to-Navigate-the-EPEAT-Registry.wmv .
If you’ve never heard of it, EPEAT is the Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool. It’s been around long enough that everyone simply refers to it by its acronym, which is less of a mouthful. Originally funded by the US EPA, EPEAT is a searchable database of electronics products in certain categories, which is administered currently by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT criteria are developed collaboratively by a range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, environmental groups, academia, trade associations, government agencies, and recycling entities. Criteria for current product categories are based upon the IEEE 1680 family of Environmental Assessment Standards (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known primarily by its acronym). The criteria include attributes from throughout the product life cycle–i.e. throughout the stages of design, manufacture, use, and disposal. The following attributes are listed as part of the “Criteria” section of the EPEAT website (where you can also find more specific information about criteria for each of the current product categories):
- Reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials
- Material selection
- Design for end of life
- Product longevity/life extension
- Energy conservation
- End-of-life management
- Corporate performance
- Consumables (unique to Imaging Equipment standard)
- Indoor Air Quality (unique to Imaging Equipment standard)
Manufacturers voluntarily choose to meet the EPEAT criteria with certain products and have those products appear on the EPEAT registry at the appropriate level–bronze, silver, or gold, depending on increasing percentages of optional criteria a product meets (all registered products meet certain required criteria). So, EPEAT is not a certification program; however, you can have faith in the validity of the EPEAT labels because manufacturer claims are verified by independent experts–see the “Verification” section of the EPEAT website for complete information. See profiles of EPEAT’s “Product Registration Entities” or “PREs” at http://www.epeat.net/participants/pres/; the list includes the likes of UL Environment. This is not greenwashing; if a product bears the EPEAT label, it has been very closely scrutinized by folks who are experienced at validating environmental claims.
The EPEAT registry currently includes desktops, laptops/notebooks, workstations, thin clients, displays (computer monitors), televisions, printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, fax machines, digital duplicators and mailing machines. New products may be added to the registry in the future as criteria are developed for them.
Go to http://www.epeat.net/participants/purchasers/, scroll down to “Purchaser Types,” and click on each of the different tabs to see a list of some of the organizations that already use EPEAT.
What’s the State Electronics Challenge?
The State Electronics Challenge (SEC) is a free program for public entities (such as government agencies, schools, universities, libraries, etc.) that encourages and assists with purchasing greener electronic office equipment, reducing the impacts of computers and imaging equipment during use, and managing obsolete electronics in an environmentally responsible way. Participants are called “partners.” Partners receive resources (such as access to partner-only webinars as mentioned previously), technical assistance, the opportunity to receive recognition for their efforts, and sustainability reports for their organization, documenting their accomplishments and the resulting environmental benefits in terms of greenhouse gas reduction, reduction of toxic materials, energy saved, etc. SEC is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC).
You can sign up to focus your activities around one or more of three life cycle phases–purchasing, use, and end-of-life management. Reports are submitted annually, but since everything is voluntary, you do whatever is manageable given your situation. If you complete all of the “required activities” in a life cycle, your organization can receive recognition (“required” is only for the sake of recognition) at the bronze, silver, or gold level, based on the number of life cycle phases addressed. Are you sensing a chromatic theme here? See the “Programmatic Requirements Checklist” for details.
Even if your organization is not a public entity eligible to become a SEC partner, I’d encourage you to use this checklist, and the resources available on the SEC web site, for guidance on greening your organization in terms of electronics office equipment consumption.
What am I watching again, and why do I care?
The link at the beginning of this post will take you to a recording of a webinar hosted by SEC, which you can watch in Windows Media Player or similar application. The recording is just under 50 minutes long. In it, Andrea Desimone of the Green Electronics Council leads you through the EPEAT search functions, from the basic search to more advanced options, including criteria-based searches, filtering results, exceptions, and comparing products. You’ll also learn tips and tricks to help you sift through the 3,000+ products registered with EPEAT.
As for why you should care–I could give you lectures on the multitude of environmental and social impacts of electronics that could convince you purchasing greener electronics is important. But for starters, focus on the fact that you could save money while being environmentally responsible, and that you could tell your organization’s clients and customers all about how you did it. And it could be pretty easy to accomplish with the help of resources like EPEAT and/or SEC. For some statistics, see http://www.epeat.net/about-epeat/environmental-benefits/ and http://www.stateelectronicschallenge.net/why_join.html and see if you don’t think learning about achieving those sorts of results is worth less than an hour of your time.