Canadian recycling of e-waste. I wouldn’t look to Canada as a model, even though we have fairly good governance infrastructure to support it.
Archive for the ‘computer waste’ Category
We can only hope that the toxin-free PCs are as advertised:
IT and business transformation services company Wipro Infotech is the first Indian company to build a 100% recyclable and toxin-free computer. Wipro joins a small number of manufacturers worldwide to develop toxics-free electronics.
The eco-friendly Wipro Greenware desktops are manufactured to be completely free from harmful chemicals such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs).
The challenge, of course, is to ensure that, once its lifespan is done, there is a reputable place to recycle the Wipro.
I’ve got two monitors and a tower that I’m waiting to recycle. So I hand them over to the e-waste recycler and I feel so green. I know my former computers, now e-waste, will be handled responsibly. Not so fast.
CBC ran a story on the destination and handling of e-waste. Not so good. Lots of it ends up illegally in China, where the e-waste is taken to remote villages, and away from any central authorities who might curtail the activity (see this clip for the struggles in regulating any of this). It is dismantled under dangerous conditions and causes terrible land, air and (especially) water pollution. All of this is happening after the big expose that The Basel Action Network and CBC did in 2001 about the practice with the Canadian federal government (oh, but the Canadian government has promised to remedy this in 2010)!
The CBC also exposed a couple of bad practices recyclers in BC. Verdict? The companies sound good on paper but the e-waste still gets sent to China. CBC then covered a best practices recycler, Barrie Metals Group and Global Electric Electronic Processing, Inc.. Very cool, although they point out that recycling in the West costs a lot more. I wonder, are we willing to pay the price for extra environmental regulations and higher labour costs?
1615, 55e/th Avenue
Dorval, (QC) Canada H9P 2W3
Xstrata hopes to take advantage of the European Union’s waste electronic regulations and thus the EU’s needs to have its cellphones, laptops, etc. recycled. Xstrata plans to double its recycling capacity at the Horne smelter in Quebec.
I feel a bit–just a bit–of NIMBY coming on. Sure I want recycling and the city’s residents need the income. Hopefully, this recycling plant isn’t so dirty that it’s a net loss to the environment instead of a net gain.
Apple has just announced the new MacBook Air, an incredibly thin and light, full keyboard laptop with all the features that you know and love.
Apple’s frequently been in the crosshairs of environmental group Greenpeace in recent years. Jobs offered information about the environmental goals behind the MacBook Air — it has a fully recyclable aluminum case, and is “the first” to have a mercury-free display with arsenic-free glass. All the circuit boards are BFR-free and PVC-free, and the retail packaging uses 56 percent less material than the MacBook packaging.
Must resist urge to buy….
The largest consumer electronic show in the world is trying to go carbon neutral.
Offsetting the environmental impact of the show means eliminating the creation of more than 20,000 tons of carbon.
The show uses as much energy as it takes to power 2,600 homes for a year and the equivalent of 2.3 million gallons of gasoline.
“It’s pretty ambitious, considering we’re larger than the Super Bowl and all the political conventions,” said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, the Arlington-based group hosting the show.
Recycled carpet, biodegradable plastic utensils, pamphlets printed with soy ink and energy-efficient light bulbs will be used, he said. [Link added]
The ICES going green still sounds like an oxymoron to me. Despite activities at the show, the CEA does little to actively promote recycling and reuse of electronic devices, the lack of which plagues the electronics industry.
(Written by Intro to GIS student, B. W.)
Electronic waste, or E-waste, is an important emerging problem in the developing world as the rapid changes in electronic technologies have made it easy, affordable and preferable for the people of the Western world to keep buying the “renewable” and “better” electronics. This waste has resulted in a new industry, “E-waste recycling“. Illegal e-waste trades between “recyclers” and brokers have lead to the exporting of the Western Worldâ€™s e-waste to developing countries such as Asia. causing serious environmental and health hazards in poor local communities, due to the hazardous nature of the components in electronics 4. In fact, 50-80 percent of the waste generated a year in the US finds itself in poor Asian communities, due to many loopholes in governmental policies that have been encouraging this harmful exporting industry.
The ITU has recently proposed a project to improve the living conditions for locals based on changing e-wastes streams, enhancing resource protection, reducing health risks, and improving their economic situation:
The project is producing a knowledge base on e-waste recycling in developing and transition countries published in the form of an e-waste guide as an interactive Website. Furthermore, the project is producing feasibility reports on improvements in sustainable e-waste recycling schemes in three pre-selected regions in order to select one region for detailed planning and implementation of an improved e-waste recycling system and to validate the guide and underpin it with concrete examples.
I believe that GIS holds great potential for this project. Non-profit organizations could assist locals from poor Asian communities that work in the e-waste “recycling” sector, to geolocate the major dumping areas and create attributes (e.g., soil contamination levels, water contamination levels, and harmful “recycling activities”). Various kinds of analyses could be conducted. For example, locations of sites could be compared to locations of sensitive facilities such as schools and hospitals, with the hopes that either the toxic sites or the sensitive facilities could be moved if one was too close to the other. The Basel Action Network (BAN) conducted an investigation in Guiyu, one of the large recycling centers in China, and discovered serious health and environmental problems in the region. BAN discovered similar problems in other recycling centers in Pakistan and India and suspects that many other sites exist but are kept secret. With GIS, this project could track and then reveal to the world the secret harm of this exportation to the developing world and potentially force governments to strengthen their rules on the export of E-waste.
At what social cost do we recycle our e-waste?
Most Americans think they’re helping the earth when they recycle their old computers, televisions and cell phones. But chances are they’re contributing to a global trade in electronic trash that endangers workers and pollutes the environment overseas.
While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.
“It is being recycled, but it’s being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. “We’re preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world.”
Don’t think that we reduce the problem because we’re trying to ensure the computers are reused instead of recycled.
“Reuse is the new excuse. It’s the new passport to export,” said Puckett of Basel Action Network. “Other countries are facing this glut of exported used equipment under the pretext that it’s all going to be reused.”
Just because this story is about the US doesn’t mean that Canada isn’t just as bad.
For my students in Environment and Society who answered Essay Question 1 in Section A of the last exam on how to reduce the environmental impacts of the iPod, another set of suggestions: don’t throw away your broken iPod, go to the web to fix it.
Thanks to Caroline, a student in ENVR 201.
Bureau En Gros in Quebec has opened a new program together with Le RÃ©seau quÃ©bÃ©cois des CFER (Centre de formation en entreprise et rÃ©cupÃ©ration) and and the Quebec governmental agency RECYC-QUEBEC to properly recycle e-waste. They accept pretty much everything, from screens, to laptops, to walkmans, to cell phones. The participating stores–a list is provided-have a special counter where you come and give away your e-stuff. They take it and put it in a special bin where a CFER truck will come once a week (can be more, depending on load) and will deliver it to a place where workers in a youth training program will ‘decompose’ each item to its little pieces to be later reused or simply recycled.
Apparently, for a small cost to the consumer, Bureau en Gros also will download the contents of the computers onto CD or DVD. [Hopefully, this will reduce the 70-80% of stockpiling of computers.]
As Caroline reminds us, it surely doesn’t solve the problem of consumption, but at least the stuff that we already have can be disposed and taken care of more carefully.
Apparently not so much.
the potential (no pun intended) for electric cars is profound:
An Austin-based startup called EEStor promised ”technologies for replacement of electrochemical batteries,” meaning a motorist could plug in a car for five minutes and drive 500 miles roundtrip between Dallas and Houston without gasoline.
By contrast, some plug-in hybrids on the horizon would require motorists to charge their cars in a wall outlet overnight and promise only 50 miles of gasoline-free commute. And the popular hybrids on the road today still depend heavily on fossil fuels.
”It’s a paradigm shift,” said Ian Clifford, chief executive of Toronto-based ZENN Motor Co., which has licensed EEStor’s invention. ”The Achilles’ heel to the electric car industry has been energy storage. By all rights, this would make internal combustion engines unnecessary.”
If only it could be extended to all the battery powered devices that now clutter our lives…
(one should keep in mind that the production and end-of-life disposal of the new system may be as great or worse than the batteries or engines that it replaces.)
Since 1965, the tech world has obsessed about keeping pace with Moore’s Law — an empirical observation that computing performance will double every 24 months. Concurrently, consumers have lusted after the latest and greatest computing hardware, encouraged in part by newer, fatter, ever more demanding operating systems and applications.
Moore’s law is great for making tech faster, and for making slower, existing tech cheaper, but when consumers realise their personal lust for faster hardware makes almost zero financial sense, and hurts the environment with greater demands for power, will they start to demand cheaper, more efficient ‘third-world’ computers that are just as effective?
Of course, a first world demand for cheaper laptops doesn’t spell the end of environmental damage, considering the millions (billions?) of $100 laptops may be produced. But that’s the tricky trade-off between environmental protection and social equity. Personally, I prefer that needs of the developing world don’t get lost in our (largely) first world concerns for the environment.
We tend to focus on carbon neutrality for previous centuries’ industries (cars, coal). But we can forget the gluttonous material and energy needs of our e-industries. I’m thinking specifically of the acres of computer servers needed to support e-commerce functions and search engines. These server farms deserve our climate change attention just as much as our concern about SUVs. A couple of examples show that organizations are beginning to address these concerns.
Yahoo, for example, is aiming to go carbon neutral this year.
Carbon Neutral consults with firms to determine their carbon footprint, assess possibilities for reduction, and then estimate offsets. Some high profile organizations have used the company–IUCN is one–although I don’t know the Carbon Neutral’s provenance in terms of the carbon-friendly projects it funds.
Two Steps Forward succinctly lays out both the problems and advances of energy consumption by data centers.
I, for one, would like to determine how much offset I require for my home computers, although I realize that purchasing offsets doesn’t obviate my need for reducing overall energy consumption and computer use.
Bees are the key to most of the world’s food. Their seemingly minor act of pollination ensures most of the world’s food crops. In the past year, there’s been a dramatic decrease in North American and European bee populations where, in some places, up to 80 percent of them have simply disappeared. It’s called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), which
occurs when a hive’s inhabitants suddenly disappear, leaving only queens, eggs and a few immature workers, like so many apian Mary Celestes. The vanished bees are never found, but thought to die singly far from home.
Th collapse could be due to a wide variety causes, among them parasites, cancer, and even beekeeper practices.
If the massive bee die-off is due to mobile phones then researchers should be able to find out if it is due to specific radio frequencies. Meanwhile if the causal link is proven then shouldn’t all mobiles be turned off until a solution is found? That would cause a considerable uproar – but being able to feed people is more important. What if the link is associative (a clear link cannot be found but it’s strongly suggestive) or combinatorial (the radio waves in combination with something else is causing the losses). Then will the public give up their cell phones?
I couldn’t find the paper that the articles were referencing. The closest was this from 2004.
Update: Here are the symptoms of CCD
1) In collapsed colonies
# The complete absence of adult bees in colonies, with no or little build up of dead bees in the colonies or in front of those colonies.
# The presence of capped brood in colonies.
# The presence of food stores, both honey and bee bread
i. which is not immediately robbed by other bees
ii. when attacked by hive pests such as wax moth and small hive beetle, the attack is noticeably delayed.
2) In cases where the colony appear to be actively collapsing
# An insufficient workforce to maintain the brood that is present
# The workforce seems to be made up of young adult bees
# The queen is present
# The cluster is reluctant to consume provided feed, such as sugar syrup and protein supplement
This map gives you a sense of the huge impact of CCD in the U.S.:
States reporting CCD in dark brown (March 2007)
(Map Source: Sieber. Data Source: Bee Alert Technology for the attributes and ESRI for the state boundaries)
[Got the idea for the map from the NYTimes, which treats explanations like cell phones as a form of wild-eyed conspiracy.]
A New York family vows to spend a year without toilet paper. It’s part of their experiment to exert no impact on the land — “eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and … using no carbon-fueled transportation.”
The family is blogging their progress on reducing their impact to zero. Wait a minute, using computers as a part of no impact? Neither the computer use nor the artistic/entertainment products of this year-long experiment goes unnoticed in their blog’s comment section:
â€œGetting people to read a blog on their 50-watt L.C.D. monitors and buy a bound volume of [their book] postconsumer paper and show the filmed doc [a friend is filming a documentary of the year] in a heated/air-conditioned movie theater, etc., sounds like nonimpact man is leading to a lot of impact.â€
Still, this family’s experiment is a lesson for my students. Reducing your impact requires major lifestyle changes and is VERY time-consuming. Think on that if you live up 10 flights of stairs or have no refrigerator.
CBC radio had a great interview on the environmental impacts of the iPhone. It featured Heather Rogers’s book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage. The author provided an extensive look at the likely environmental costs of the iPhone and the way in which those costs are obscured by marketing and design. Below are some highlights.
What’s the environmental impact? Rogers says that the first impact occurs with industrial production in the third world, which generally lack good labour or environmental laws. Then, of course comes transportation costs and packaging costs. Apple, at least, has been forced (here too) to reduce its overwhelming amount of product packaging and invest in recycled materials. In the interview, Rogers doesn’t mention the rest of the lifecycle because this is what we normally think of as e-waste–the energy usage and disposal costs (which likely take us back to the third world but not necessarily).
Her larger point is that much of the environmental problems are embedded in metaphor and marketing. “Apple’s sleek design doesn’t tell you where it came from OR where it goes to.” The last thing companies like Apple want you to know is the technology’s planned obsolescence, its toxicity.
Indeed, according to Rogers, Apple products’ image is one of cleanliness. Apple focuses on sleek design, compactness, and a lack of clutter in its user interface (who knew that user friendliness could suggest environmentalism?). Its white colour is no accident. Of course, we can go back further than Apple designs. Such was the reasoning for white kitchen appliances–because they appeared clean and that implied germ free (see S Nickles. 2002. “Preserving Women”: Refrigerator Design as Social Process in the 1930 s. Technology and Culture. I wonder, does that mean that the iPhone will be virus free? Hmmm).
Back to Rogers–the company also evokes an environmental sensibility. They care about such things; they cultivate environmentalists to purchase and use their products. What they also cultivate is a cultural acceptance of disposability. When a new device is introduced, it becomes acceptable to simply throw it away, even high priced ticket items. It should be astonishing to us that we so casually discard working technology that costs $100s. Rogers contends that the devices are explicitly designed so that they last less time than they could (read–battery life, durability). You could lodge many of these complaints at the consumer electronics industry writ large. What Apple brings to electronics is the idea of fashion obsolescence, which can be added to the pantheon of types of obsolescence (planned and, in a later post, technological, cultural, and adulterous obsolescence).
The CBC piece also features an interview with Steven Levy, author of The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness. He points out that Apple has been “relentless” in bringing out new models that, of course, caused people to throw them out. I think that Levy defends too vigourously Apples’ need to compete (competitive obsolescence?). His point is that constant improvement propels consumption which unfortunately produces the detritus of our electronic lives.
Listen to the whole CBC piece here.
One positive outcome of these innovations that neither interviewee mentioned is that technological convergence (phone, camera, music player) will someday result in fewer devices to throw away. Until that day, we will be bombarded with features that, instead of allowing us to upgrade the software or firmware, force us to buy a new device. That is, if we buy the hype.
Watch Greenpeaceâ€™s spoof ad of the Green iPod announcement: