Electronics producers document environmental improvements in five major areas
Efforts by Canada's electronics industry to protect the environment have resulted in significant advances in five specific areas: chemical management, energy efficiency, materials management, design for recycling, and product expandability. All of these achievements have occurred within a relatively short time, and are summarized in the industry's first Designing for the Environment report.
The report, prepared by Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (EPSC), was released in Austin, Texas during E-Scrap 2006, North America's largest gathering of the electronics recycling industry. EPSC represents 21 of Canada's leading electronics manufacturers on environmental issues.
The report outlines how companies have reduced environmentally sensitive chemicals in their products, and developed and incorporated power-saving features. Efforts to reduce or eliminate hazardous chemical compounds have focused on lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavelent chromium and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Companies are switching to alternative, safer or more easily recovered/re-usable compounds and materials. Recognizing the importance of energy conservation, electronics manufacturers began incorporating a low-energy-use "sleep mode" in their equipment early on, and an increasing range of products now meet or even surpass Energy Star criteria.
Advancements in technology and the miniaturization of components have reduced the amount of resources required to produce electronic products, making today's computers, portable music players and other items both "small and green," notes the report. Moreover, some difficult-to-recycle plastics are being replaced with materials such as aluminum and magnesium that are lighter, more durable and readily recyclable.
Realizing that easier, enhanced recycling begins at the design stage, Manufacturers are also incorporating environmentally responsible materials such as vegetable-based and recycled plastics, recycled glass and recycled polypropylene into their designs. Other design innovations include more snap-fit parts (which minimizes the need for gluing and welding), fewer screw types and numbers of screws, and elimination of paint and varnish on plastics.
The advent of multi-functional devices has been a boon to consumers and the environment, says the report. Products such as notebook computers or all-in-one printers can perform an array of tasks, reducing the total number of products that need to be manufactured, shipped and responsibly recycled at end-of-life. New electronic products are also incorporating design features that extend product lifespan or allow component parts to be replaced so that the entire product does not enter the waste stream prematurely.
"Canadians increasingly prefer to purchase products that are easier to recycle at the end of their life, and create less of an impact on the environment throughout their lifecycle," said EPSC vice-president Jay Illingworth. "Our companies have responded by investing significantly in the environmental performance of their products, from initial research and development, through to manufacturing and marketing.
"As a result," he said, "these products are not only better for the environment, but they also appeal to consumers with better performance, reduced costs and overall convenience."
The report includes a section on standards for electronics recycling. Working through the EPSC, the industry has developed the Recycling Vendor Qualification Program (RVQP) to assess and qualify vendors who will recycle electronics products. The standards address regulatory compliance and worker health and safety as well as environmental protection.
The Designing for the Environment report may be viewed on the EPSC Web site, www.epsc.ca/dfe. The site also provides direct links to individual EPSC member companies' corporate sites, providing tangible examples of products that integrate many of the environmental features profiled in the report. More information is also available from Jay Illingworth at EPSC, 613/238-4822, ext 225, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
EPSC was founded as a not-for-profit organization in 2003 by Electro-Federation Canada, (EFC) the Information Technology Association of Canada, (ITAC) and leading consumer electronics and information technology manufacturers. Its current members include: Apple Canada, Brother International (Canada), Canon Canada, Dell Canada, Hewlett-Packard (Canada), Hitachi Canada, IBM Canada, Lenovo Canada, Lexmark Canada, LG Electronics Canada, Logitech, Microsoft Canada, Mind Computers, Northern Micro, Panasonic Canada, Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics Canada, Sharp Electronics of Canada, Sony of Canada, Thomson Multimedia and Toshiba of Canada.
In related activities, public consultations on a proposed stewardship plan for end-of-life electronics in British Columbia recently concluded, and a final draft plan has been submitted to the provincial government by British Columbia Electronics Stewardship (BCES) for review and approval. The program, to be operated by the not-for-profit BCES, will be based on a convenient collection system, processing and recycling only by RVQP-qualified processors, extensive public education and awareness programs and a funding mechanism based on an environmental handling fee levied on new product sales. Responding to concerns about existing community-based programs to refurbish and re-use electronic equipment, the stewardship program will work with organizations already involved in these programs to improve them and explore new re-use initiatives.