The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and SEI are pleased to announce that a team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign consisting of SEI coordinator Joy Scrogum (ISTC), William Bullock (Art + Design), Martin Wolske, and Jon Gant (both of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science) has recently received funding from the Student Sustainability Committee for a project entitled “Illini Gadget Garage: Education through Electronic Product Life Extension.” This seed funding will be used to launch a center where UI students and staff will bring their personal electronic devices for assistance with assessment and repair. The center will be called the Illini Gadget Garage. Using the same “collaborative repair” model employed at the campus bike shop and MakerSpace Urbana’s computer Help Desk, clients with devices in need of repair/troubleshooting will work together with Gadget Garage student staff and volunteers to perform the necessary device assessment and maintenance activities. Depending upon the situation, activities may range from guidance on how to make your computer/device run faster to actual repair and replacement of components. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in 2013, ISTC Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist and current SEI Coordinator, Joy Scrogum, and ISTC Affiliated Faculty Scientist, William Bullock, served as guest editors for a special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.”
The journal’s editors recently received multiple requests to reopen this special issue. Scrogum and Bullock have once again agreed to serve as editors.
From the issue’s rationale:
“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.
While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.
It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”
If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at http://www.mdpi.com/journal/challenges/special_issues/electronic-waste#info. The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015.
Check out the following updates and resources added this spring on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative web site. If you have any questions, or would like to make suggestions for additions to the SEI site, please contact Joy Scrogum. Don’t forget to subscribe to the SEI Blog and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay current with sustainable electronics issues!
New “Lessons” Page:
We’ve added a “Lessons” page to the “Education” section of our site for interactive lessons on various sustainable electronics topics. Check out “The Secret Life of Electronics” to explore some of the environmental and social impacts of electronic products.
Teaching Sustainability with Electronics. January 2015.
Updates to Law & Policy pages:
A link to the controversial Executive Order 13693 (Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade) has been added to the U.S. Federal Legislation page. Effective March 19, 2015, this executive order is notable in its lack of any mention of the EPEAT registry tied to federal procurement preferences. For nearly a decade prior, 95% of electronics purchased by federal agencies were required to be EPEAT registered. The omission was met with criticism and concern from environmental and sustainability advocates, but the Green Electronics Council, which administers the EPEAT registry, has expressed confidence that federal agencies will continue to use the registry as a purchasing tool, since doing so is not precluded by the new executive order. UPDATE, 6/18/15: Implementation instructions for this Executive Order, dated June 10, 2015, make it clear that EPEAT is the only existing tool to achieve the electronic stewardship mandates of the order. This allays the fears of those who thought the omission of direct mention of EPEAT in the order would lead to weakening or failure as a tool for environmentally preferable purchasing. For more information, see the Resource Recycling article Federal government sticks with EPEAT after all.
A link to IL HB 1455 was added under “Pending State & Local Legislation” on the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. This bill has passed the state House and Senate and is awaiting the signature of Governor Bruce Rauner. Synopsis As Introduced: “Amends the Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act. Provides that a manufacturer may count the total weight of a cathode ray tube device, prior to processing, towards its goal under this Section if all recyclable components are removed from the device and the cathode ray tube glass is managed in a manner that complies with all Illinois Environmental Protection Agency regulations for handling, treatment, and disposition of cathode ray tubes. Provides that, for specified categories of electronic devices, each manufacturer shall recycle or reuse at least 80% (was at least 50%) of the total weight of the electronic devices that the manufacturer sold in that category in Illinois during the calendar year 2 years before the applicable program year. Provides that a registered recycler or a refurbisher of CEDs and EEDs for a manufacturer obligated to meet goals may not charge individual consumers or units of local government acting as collectors a fee to recycle or refurbish CEDs and EEDs, unless the recycler or refurbisher provides (i) a financial incentive, such as a coupon, that is of greater or equal value to the fee being charged or (ii) premium service, such as curbside collection, home pick-up, drop-off locations, or a similar methods of collection. Provides that, in program year 2015, and each year thereafter, if the total weight of CEDs and EEDs recycled or processed for reuse by the manufacturer is less than 100% of the manufacturer’s individual recycling or reuse goal set forth in a specified provision of the Act, the manufacturer shall pay a penalty equal to the product of (i) $0.70 per pound; multiplied by (ii) the difference between the manufacturer’s individual recycling or reuse goal and the total weight of CEDs and EEDs recycled or processed for reuse by the manufacturer during the program year. Effective immediately.”
A link to the text of the Minnesota bill HF 1412 was also added under “Pending State & Local Legislation” on the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. This bill, introduced by Rep. Frank Hornstein on March 4, 2015, would change the determination of e-scrap collection requirements for manufacturers. Currently, manufacturers fund the MN electronics recycling program with contributions based on volume of equipment sold in the state annually. According to the Product Stewardship Institute, the new bill would ‘change the state’s reuse and recycling goals every year in response to changing weights and quantities of electronic products sold and recycled. [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] will publish a new recycling goal each year based on the sum of the average weight of the electronic devices collected for recycling in the preceding two years.’ The bill additionally proposes to broaden the state’s electronics disposal ban, which currently only bans CRTs from landfills. If passed, the amended disposal ban would include products such as cellphones, video game consoles and computers and computer peripherals.
A few of the new items in the SEI Resource Compilations. (Items are added all the time, so check the web site often.):
Redefining scope: the true environmental impact of smartphones: The aim of this study is to explore the literature surrounding the environmental impact of mobile phones and the implications of moving from the current business model of selling, using and discarding phones to a product service system based upon a cloud service. The exploration of the impacts relating to this shift and subsequent change in scope is explored in relation to the life cycle profile of a typical smartphone.
MeterHero: MeterHero is a sustainability exchange where you can offset your water and energy use by purchasing savings from local homes, schools, and buildings. People who conserve earn income and help save the planet. The MeterHero dashboard allows users to track their water, electric and gas usage, and money earned by reducing usage.
Carbon Nanotubes in Electronics: Background and Discussion for Waste-Handling Strategies: Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are increasingly being used in electronics products. CNTs have unique chemical and nanotoxicological properties, which are potentially dangerous to public health and the environment. This report presents the most recent findings of CNTs’ toxicity and discusses aspects related to incineration, recycling and potential remediation strategies including chemical and biological remediation possibilities. Our analysis shows that recycling CNTs may be challenging given their physiochemical properties and that available strategies such as power-gasification methods, biological degradation and chemical degradation may need to be combined with pre-handling routines for hazardous materials. The discussion provides the background knowledge for legislative measures concerning specialized waste handling and recycling procedures/facilities for electronics products containing CNTs.
Precarious Promise: A Case Study of Engineered Carbon Nanotubes: In just over two decades since the discovery of carbon nanotubes, technologies relying on engineered CNTs have developed at warp speed. Current and anticipated uses of engineered CNTs are numerous and diverse: sporting equipment, solar cells, wind turbines, disk drives, batteries, antifouling paints for boats, flame retardants, life-saving medical devices, drug delivery technologies, and many more. Some have suggested that every feature of life as we know it is or will be impacted by the discovery and use of CNTs. Despite uncertainty about how these entirely new materials may affect living systems, CNTs have largely been a case of “forget precaution, get to production.” Concern for human health and the environment has been overwhelmed by the promise of profits and progress. Financial support for nanomaterial research and commercial development has vastly outpaced funding of environmental health and safety and sustainable design research on these materials. And with limited understanding of how these structures — small enough to penetrate cells — will interact with humans and other life forms, use of CNTs is proliferating with few systems in place to protect people or the environment. Warning signs have emerged, however. CNTs share important physical characteristics with ultrafine air pollution particles as well as with asbestos fibers — both recognized as seriously toxic. Mounting numbers of toxicological studies now demonstrate irreversible health effects in laboratory animals, but it is unclear whether similar effects have occurred in humans exposed at work or through environmental releases. The growing literature on toxic effects of CNTs also make clear that the environmental and human health impacts may vary radically, depending on specific chemical and physical characteristics of the engineered nanomaterial. While some CNTs appear to be highly hazardous, it remains possible that others may pose little threat. Is it possible to gain the benefits of CNTs with minimal risk by ensuring the use of the safest alternatives for a particular application? (PDF Format; Length: 36 pages)
In case you missed it, the recording of the ISTC Sustainability Seminar, “How Sustainable is Information Technology? Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities” is now available online, along with a PDF of the presentation slides. This webinar was presented by Eric Masanet, Morris E. Fine Junior Professor in Materials and Manufacturing and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University.
Abstract: The growing numbers of information technology (IT) devices–and the environmental impacts associated with their manufacture, use, and disposal–are topics that have received much attention in both the media and research communities. While the environmental footprint of IT devices is indeed significant, each new device generation typically brings substantial operational energy efficiency improvements. Furthermore, a singular focus on their direct impacts ignores the indirect environmental benefits that IT devices might provide by improving societal energy and resource efficiencies. A growing body of research suggests that such benefits might be substantial across the economy through such applications as replacing physical goods with digital services, building controls for energy efficiency, and real-time logistics optimization. This presentation will review the life-cycle impacts of IT systems, discuss trends in these impacts as a function of technology progress and growing consumption over time, and highlight the challenges and opportunities associated with managing and reducing the environmental impacts of IT systems moving forward.
If you’re interested in receiving email reminders about upcoming ISTC seminars, email Elizabeth Meschewski. Additional webinar recordings are available on the ISTC web site.
iFixit is a “global community of people helping each other repair things,” and its website (http://www.ifixit.com/) is described as the “free repair guide for everything, written by everyone.” The company fosters sustainability by promoting and facilitating repair and reuse. I’ve written previously about a course at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in which I incorporated the iFixit Technical Writing Program. SEI’s UIUC campus consortium has even hosted a webinar providing an overview of the iFixit Technical Writing Program and how it can be used with your students (check out the webinar recording if you missed it; note that for the first minute or so there’s only audio, no slides showing).
If you’re interested in gaining hands-on experience with this technical writing program, there’s still time to sign up for their annual technical writing symposium, this year called “Awesymposium 2015.” (There are even Lego figures on the site, so everything must surely be awesome.) The symposium takes place May 21-23 at iFixit’s offices in San Luis Obispo, CA, and is free to attend (though you’ll have to get yourself there and arrange for your own accommodations). Participants will be walked through the technical writing program with hands-on repair guide writing workshops. You can register online at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1iq3x-36j-zn-KtYEM1TBKn6r9X4WSKD7W4awrZBTqvA/viewform.
If you’re not lucky enough to be able to make it to the California coast, you can still learn more about the program on the technical writing program web site, http://edu.ifixit.com/. In particular, check out the Student Roadmap and Instructional Videos. If you’re at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and have any questions about the program, or would like to talk about how the program could be integrated into your class or registered student organization, feel free to contact me.
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), the parent organization for the Sustainable Electronics Initative (SEI), has received Gold Level recognition from the State Electronics Challenge for activities in 2014. The State Electronics Challenge (SEC) is a free, voluntary program for non-federal public sector organizations (e.g. schools, local governments, universities, libraries, etc.) and non-profit organizations, which encourages responsible management of office equipment via more sustainable purchasing, reducing the impacts of devices during use, and managing obsolete electronics in an environmentally safe way. Participants, or “partners” as they’re referred to in the program, can elect to focus efforts on one or more life cycle phases: purchasing, use, and end-of-life management. Guidance on addressing impacts in these life cycle phases is provided via the SEC web site, partners-only webinars, and direct assistance from SEC staff members. Partners are not required to perform any given activity, but if they wish to apply to the optional recognition program, there is a checklist of activities that must be completed to achieve different recognition levels.
Partners are eligible for recognition for their accomplishments as follows:
- Gold recognition: completed General Requirements & all activities in 3 lifecycle phases
- Silver recognition: completed General Requirements & completed all activities in 2 lifecycle phases
- Bronze recognition: completed General Requirements & all activities in 1 lifecycle phase
ISTC was in fact the first organization in IL to become a SEC partner, back in 2011, but 2014 was the first year for which it sought recognition for its activities, after having developed a written policy for purchase, use, and disposal of its IT equipment as part of its internal sustainability committee’s efforts. Of SEC’s 150 current partners, only nine are from Illinois, and, of those, just two earned recognition at any level in 2014. See the complete list of 2014 Partner Award recipients on the SEC web site. As you can see from the picture included in this post, the recognition plaque is appropriately made out of recycled circuit boards.
One of the benefits of being an SEC partner is the receipt of an “environmental sustainability report” for the year, with a summary of the environmental benefits of your organization’s efforts, in easy to understand equivalencies. For example, in ISTC’s 2014 report, we can see that the reduction in energy use resulting from our purchasing, use, and reuse and recycling efforts was equivalent to the amount of electricity to power 25 homes/year. To see an example of the report partners receive, see ISTC’s full Environmental Sustainability Report from SEC for calendar year 2014.
If you wish to learn more about the State Electronics Challenge, don’t miss the upcoming free SEC webinar, “Introduction to the State Electronics Challenge” Tuesday, May 19, 2015 from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM CDT. You can register for the webinar online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4400751674919799810.
In a previous post, I promoted a webinar hosted by Net Impact in which the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge would be announced, along with an overview of closed-loop strategies at Sprint. You can watch the archived webinar at https://netimpact.org/webinars/the-circular-economy-is-calling-closing-the-loop-in-the-smartphone-industry. (Note that the quality of the video for the winning concept was poor during the webinar; you can view the video separately at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjYyW4i7OS8.) The Challenge was sponsored by Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, and asked students to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams to register. Read more about the Challenge at https://netimpact.org/impact-programs/smartphone-encore-challenge.
I’m pleased that a concept submitted by UIUC students, NEO, was a runner up in the competition. NEO involves the reuse of smartphones as low-cost computers for teaching programming to kids, thus addressing e-waste, digital divide, and education issues simultaneously. This innovative idea was created by Elizabeth Reuter, Kevin Lehtiniitty, and Biplab Deka.
The students came up with this concept for their final project in ENG/TE 498 “Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations,” which I taught in collaboration with Dr. Brian Lilly and Kirsten Walker in spring 2014. For their final class project, students could either prepare a repair guide for iFixit.com, or create a mock entry for the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, a global student competition administered by SEI which ended in 2013. The video below was prepared as part of that class project.
The winning concept from students at UC Berkeley, TouchCart, involves using old cellphones to make finding items easier in grocery stores while also allowing scanning of items during shopping. It also allows connection to customer service, and quick check out. The other runners up, StreetSmart from Ohio State University, involves used cellphones as in-car technology to help track driving habits. This would allow insurance companies to more easily reward safe drivers with lower rates. The winning team received $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. And they’ll also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen the team’s business model.
Despite not winning this particular competition, Team NEO is participating in other student competitions to raise funds to bring this worthy concept to reality. Join me in wishing them all the best in these pursuits, and congratulations for their achievements thus far.
In a previous post, I wrote about a new electronics-related competition debuted this year: the Smartphone Encore Challenge. The Challenge is a collaboration of Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact in which student teams were challenged to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams or individuals to register.
The winning individual or team will receive $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. The winners will also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen their business model.
Tomorrow, April 22, 2015–Earth Day–Net Impact will present an “Issues in Depth” webinar, featuring the concepts of the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge and two runners-up. The webinar, entitled “The Circular Economy is Calling: Closing the Loop in the Smartphone Industry,” will also feature Darren Beck, Director of Environmental Initiatives at Sprint, who will share the successes and challenges of applying closed-loop strategies to Sprint’s business. The webinar begins at 11:00 CDT and you can register online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6002673046428866561.
I can’t wait to see what the winning students have come up with! For more inspiring sustainable electronics ideas from college and university students, visit the Sustainable Electronics Initiative YouTube channel, where you can find winning entry videos from past years of the SEI International Sustainable Electronics Competition.
The Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) recently completed its “Simplifying Environmentally Preferable Purchasing” project, which was funded by the Roy A. Hunt Foundation. As part of the project, NERC developed Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines for paper, toner cartridges, and office supplies. NERC also created fact sheets on each of the EPP Model documents, and presented a webinar on the importance of EPP and the EPP model documents.
Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines
- Copy and Multipurpose Paper: Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines
- Monochrome Toner Cartridges: Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines
- Office Supplies: Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines
Simplifying EPP Webinar, July 24, 2014
NERC has also compiled a list of other EPP specifications available online. Check out complete project information on the Simplifying Environmentally Preferable Purchasing page of the NERC web site.
For more information on environmentally preferable purchasing, see the SEI Resource Compilation, “Sustainable Purchasing & Supply Chains.” If you would like to suggest resources to add to that compilation, please contact Joy Scrogum.
Does your organization use EPEAT to source environmentally preferable electronics? If so, consider applying for the first annual EPEAT Purchaser Awards, which recognize the efforts of those driving environmental improvements through environmentally preferable electronics purchasing. Applications are being accepted through April 6 for the 2015 EPEAT Purchaser Awards. All organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products are eligible. Learn more and apply today at http://www.epeat.net/epeat-purchaser-awards/.
For more information on EPEAT, view my previous post, How to Use the EPEAT Registry to Purchase Greener Electronics–Archived Webinar.