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Electronic Waste: P2 Opportunities
Table of Contents
Background and Overview
Reasons for Change
P2 Opportunities
Corporate and Non-Profit Initiatives
Options for E-Waste
Where to go for Help
Complete List of Links

Essential Links:

A Guide to Environmentally Preferable Computer Purchasing
This page contains a discussion of environmental problems and possible alternatives with electronic ...

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)
A Web-based procurement tool to help institutional purchasers in public and private sectors evaluate...

Tool Kit for Setting Up Electronics Recycling Programs
A 42-page tool kit on beginning and operating an electronics collection program, both as a special c...

P2 Opportunities

To prevent generating e-waste, consider options at the time of purchase. Your purchasing affects the market, especially when purchasing large quantities. Most computer equipment is not designed to be easily recycled. Some computers are not even designed to be upgraded or modified. When purchasing, specify recycled content materials, take-back provisions to recycle used equipment, limits on use of toxics in manufacturing, and upgradeability. Through purchasing specifications, there will be improved choices for all consumers of electronics.

Purchasing electronic equipment--consider this
is NEW equipment required?
  • Can remanufactured or refurbished equipment be used?
  • Can current equipment be upgraded?
  • Will leased equipment suffice? (This option essentially shifts the burden of ultimate disposal to the leaser; however, it may be more likely that the equipment will be used longer before proper disposal.)
Materials selection
     Is the product made with as few toxics as possible?
  • This question is hard to answer, but some manufacturers are beginning to change materials and to publicize their changes. Compliance with the European RoHS Directive restricts cadmium, mercury, lead, hexavalent chromium, and certain brominated flame retardants.
    1. Matsushita and Sony offer some products that use lead-free solder.
    2. Sony uses steel rather than plastic housings in some products, eliminating use of harmful flame retardants in plastics and increasing recyclability.
    3. Some products use recycled plastics.
  • Choose low-mercury and long-life lamps in flat-panel displays.
  • Choose equipment made with non-halogenated flame retardants or with a self-extinguishing base.
End-of-life design
     Is the new product designed for durability and upgradability?
  • Choose components that are modular and can be changed to upgrade memory or performance.
  • If products contain batteries, choose rechargeable, recyclable ones.
     What is the recyclability of the new product?
  • Is the product designed for easy disassembly?
  • Does the product use recyclable materials?
  • Are plastic parts labeled with the resin identification code?
  • Choose products that are manufactured without glue or fixing tape, because they are difficult to remove.
  • Choose products that are as homogeneous and easy to recycle as possible.
  • Are hazardous materials identified for easy removal?
  • Is the product manufactured using recycled-content materials? (IBM introduced a central processing unit (CPU) using 100% recycled plastic for all plastic components in the product.)
End-of-life management
     Does the manufacturer have a take-back program?
  • Some manufacturers have experimented with programs that allow you to trade in old equipment for recycling.
  • Some manufacturers offer to take back equipment at the end of its life for a fee.
  • Some manufacturers take back and recycle the lithium-ion batteries in their electronics.
  • Does the manufacturer comply with the EPA Plug-In To eCycling Guidelines for Materials Management when it recycles equipment?
Energy conservation
     What are the energy requirements?
  • Purchase products that meet the EnergyStar criteria for energy and use sleep modes.
  • Buy products that are active upon delivery and functional within LAN environments (if applicable) in order to avoid extra energy use.
  • Purchase a recharging system that uses renewable energy, if available.
Product longevity and life-cycle extension
  • Get a warranty for at least three years.
  • Buy products that are upgradable with common tools.
  • Buy products that are modular so parts can be changed without a complete new system purchase.
  • Assure that spare or replacement parts will be available for at least five years.
     What paper-use savings are offered?
  • Require and enable a duplex printing mode for new printers and copiers.
  • Require electronic or on-line documentation.
  • Require printers and copiers that use remanufactured toner cartridges.
     What savings can be achieved in packaging and shipping?
  • Purchase several computer units together in "multi-packs" (if available) rather than individually boxed.
  • Require recycled-content materials and recyclable packaging, or require manufacturers to take back shipping containers.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) has developed a standard, IEEE 1680, "Standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products," which will help purchasers of computer equipment reduce environmental impact of computers they buy, use, and discard. The actual standard must be purchased; however, the Environmental Performance Criteria are available on the internet. The standard has eight categories of environmentally-friendly criteria:

  • materials selection
  • environmentally sensitive materials
  • design for end of life
  • end-of-life management
  • energy conservation
  • product longevity and life-cycle extension
  • packaging
  • corporate performance

IEEE 1680 creates a mechanism for identifying and verifying computer products that meet these criteria: the electronic product environmental assessment tool (EPEAT). EPEAT provides a product registry for manufacturers with environmentally preferable products that meet these criteria. The tool provides good search capability of registered products and information about the criteria each product meets. In order to be part of the purchasing database, products must meet all minimum criteria. Additionally, products are categorized by the percentage of optional criteria they meet.

EPEAT is a way for manufacturers and purchasers to assure they have a common set of criteria for a "green" computer. Purchasers can easily specify that new products meet a minimum EPEAT standard level (bronze, silver, or gold).

EPEAT is maintained by the Zero Waste Alliance, a non-profit partnership of universities, government, business, and other organizations working to develop, promote, and apply zero waste strategies. Funding for this project was provided by a grant to the Green Electronics Council from the U.S. EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program.

Manufacturing electronic equipment--consider this
Materials selection
     Manufacture product with as few toxics as possible.
  • Follow the manufacturer's criteria used by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which is based on IEEE 1680.
  • Follow the Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), the European directive that phases out lead, mercury, cadmium, and hexavalent chromium, plus certain brominated flame retardants: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PBBs.
  • Eliminate intentionally added cadmium and hexavalent chromium.
  • Use light sources with no or low mercury.
  • Use non-halogenated flame retardants or equipment designed using self- extinguishing base.
  • Use lead-free solder.
  • Use non-mercury-containing switches.
  • Use batteries free of lead, cadmium, and mercury.
     Use refurbished and recycled parts
  • Used electronics can be disassembled and remanufactured into new products, thereby reducing production costs and minimizing waste generation. Every precaution must be taken to assure remanufactured parts meet the same standards as other new parts. Companies such as Xerox Corp., utilizing remanufactured equipment, offer the same guarantees as for all-new equipment.
  • Use recycled CRT glass in the manufacture of new CRT glass.
  • Use recycled-content plastics.
End-of-life design
     Design the product for durability and upgradability.
  • Use a modular design so the product can be easily upgraded with common tools.
  • Make replacement parts available.
  • Use removable, recyclable, and rechargeable batteries.
     Design the product with end-of-use recycling in mind.
  • Make plastics easier to recycle by reducing or eliminating use of metallic coatings and paint on plastic parts, and by clearly labeling the resin identification code.
  • Standardize material types to facilitate product recycling by minimizing the different types of plastics and parts that need to be sorted, and reducing manufacturing costs.
  • Identify materials with special handing needs.
  • Use recycled materials, such as plastics, glass, and metals, in the manufacture of new products.
  • Design products for easy disassembly, for example some flat panels are currently glued in place, making their removal for recycling impossible.
End-of-life management
     Institute a take-back program.
  • Offer a program (for a fee, if desired) to take back the electronics at the end of their life, or when the consumer buys a new product.
  • Use these returned products to obtain materials for use in manufacturing new products.
  • Provide take-back service for rechargeable batteries.
  • Comply with the EPA Plug-In To eCycling Guidelines for Materials Management when recycling.
Energy conservation
     Design to EnergyStar standards.
  • Follow EnergyStar criteria for less power use.
  • Use long-life lamps in flat-panel displays.
  • Design products that run on solar power or other renewable energy.
Product longevity and life-cycle extension
  • Offer an extended warranty for at least three years.
  • Make products upgradable with common tools.
  • Make products that are modular so parts can be changed without complete new system purchase.
  • Assure that spare or replacement parts will be available for at least five years.
  • Eliminate toxics in packaging.
  • Use recycled-content and recyclable packaging materials.
  • Provide for take-back of packaging.
  • Make manuals and documentation available electronically in lieu of paper copies.
Corporate performance
     Be an environmentally responsible corporate citizen.
  • Operate a corporate environmental policy consistent with ISO 14001.
  • Use and certify an environmental management system.

Manufacturers are currently under public, government, and market pressures to become more environmentally responsible. In the U.S.A., pressure is primarily from citizen action groups and response from manufacturers is largely voluntary. In Europe, the Restriction on Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), phases out lead, mercury, and cadmium, plus certain brominated flame retardants: polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and PBBs. The European Union (EU) has also mandated that manufacturers set up appropriate recycling networks, in their Waste of Electronic and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive. It includes mandated recycling targets. Manufacturers will not be able to sell products in the EU that do not comply with these directives.

The EPEAT assessment tool provides guidance for manufacturers and a listing for consumers of environmentally friendly products.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition produces an annual report card outlining progress of companies on social and environmental indicators, including materials policy, supply chain management, take-back programs, and end-of-life management of their products. They also have a recycler pledge, to assure proper recycling of electronics. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a non-profit grassroots coalition, originally formed in 1982 in response to groundwater contamination throughout Silicon Valley from high-tech companies' toxic chemical storage leakage. The group today focuses on improving environmental health and safety practices of the global electronics industry.

The Basel Action Network also sponsors an Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship. The Basal Action Network is based in Seattle and is a global network of activists promoting sustainable and just solutions to consumption and waste, especially focused on eliminating the transfer of toxics "dumping" on underdeveloped countries.

The International Association of Electronics Recyclers, a trade association for the electronics recycling industry, has implemented a process to conduct third-party audits of electronics recycling facilities to achieve the designation of " Certified Electronics Recycler."

Options for E-waste policies
     Impose an advanced recovery fee (that sunsets), followed by a
      manufacturer's take-back program.
  • Investigate extended product responsibility. Some states are looking at ways to engage producers of electronic products in the collection and recycling of these products at end of life. One barrier has been lack of recycling infrastructure. The advantage of having manufacturers responsible for recycling their products is that they will have incentive to produce products that can be more easily recycled and will use less-toxic materials.
  • Consider charging a recycling fee at point of sale. By proposing a fee on purchases on new electronic equipment containing CRTs, such as televisions and computer monitors, an infrastructure can be developed for scrap electronic equipment recovery and recycling. The monies would provide grants and loans to local governments and businesses that collect, transport, process, and recycle discarded electronics. Once infrastructure is in place to recycle equipment, a take-back program by the manufacturers could be implemented. The primary reason for implementing "producer responsibility" or a manufacturer's take-back program is that it provides incentive to design products which are less toxic and easier to recycle.
     Change regulations to ease recycling, limit disposal.
  • Streamline regulatory status of cathode ray tubes (CRTs) bound for recycling. Most CRTs (especially color monitors for computers or televisions) are considered hazardous under federal and state regulations because of the presence of lead.
  • Ban disposal of CRTs.
  • Set up local collection sites. In recent years, an increasing number of communities have experimented with various ways of collecting end-of-life electronics. There are now periodic or ongoing electronics collection and/or drop-off programs in many states.
  • Label products containing hazardous substances. To discard labeled mercury-added products, consumers must drop them off at a designated collection point or a facility authorized to accept such items.
     Promote voluntary action.
  • Promote manufacturer/non-profit organization partnerships to encourage re-use and proper disposal of non-usable items through existing infrastructure.
  • Educate the public about the hazards associated with electronic waste. Provide lists of local agencies that will take and refurbish electronic equipment. Provide lists of local recyclers where the public can take their equipment, even if they pay a fee.

State and local governments play a key role in collection and management of old electronics equipment. They must find resources to fund collection and public education efforts, and also locate vendors to safely recycle unwanted products. Partnerships among electronics manufacturers, retailers, and governments can provide necessary tools and resources for electronics recycling programs. EPA's "Plug-In To eCycling" Website provides many partnership resources.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Electronic Waste Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Western Sustainability Pollution Prevention Network
Western Sustainability Pollution Prevention Network
Contact email:

Hub Last Updated: 10/23/2006