Saturday, February 2, 2008

Basel Action Network

30 January 2007 (Seattle, WA.) – The Seattle based toxic trade watchdog, Basel Action Network (BAN), is concerned that Microsoft has done little to prevent or mitigate the massive hardware obsolescence that is likely to be caused by the release of its latest operating system known as Vista. The environmental organization predicts that the software launch will create a 'tsunami' of e-waste exported to developing countries already awash in e-waste exports, as consumers in rich countries dispose of their existing computers and buy new machines capable of running the new operating system.

BAN noted the contradiction of Microsoft founder Bill Gates latest high-tech progeny in light of the charitable mission of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "to bring innovations in health and learning to the global community."

"Today with the release of Vista, Microsoft could bring both a massive digital dump and a perpetuation of the digital divide to the global community," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network. "It is shameful how little innovation and concern the electronics industry continues to demonstrate for the long-term consequences of their products in light of their abilities to innovate front-end gadgetry to encourage sales." he said.

A study by the Softchoice Corporation[i] estimated that about half of the average business PCs in North America do not meet the minimum requirements for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, and 94 percent do not meet the system requirements for Vista Premium -- the enhanced business version. While some of this obsolescence can be solved with RAM upgrades, it is likely that many businesses will not bother with such labor intensive servicing but will simply discard their existing computers.

According to BAN, more than 50% of these computers globally, are exported to developing countries either whole or dissassembled, where they are processed and disposed of in a manner that causes serious damage to workers and local environments. The result of this is that the gains of the electronics industry translate into serious environmental costs externalized to the poor. BAN earlier documented the cyber-age nightmares in such countries as China, India or Nigeria where women and children 'cook' lead-tin soldered circuit boards over small fires, soak chips in dangerous acid baths along river ways, smash lead and phosphor laden cathode ray tubes, and burn wires and plastic housings in open dumps.[ii]

Further, BAN notes that every time software makes hardware obsolete, the digital divide is actually perpetuated, because the divide is not defined by the gap between those with computers and those without, but by those with the latest innovations and those without. And when exported obsolete computers are handed down to developing country consumers for re-use, a toxic timebomb is created there due to the fact that the electronics industry has made no effort to ensure that infrastructure is in put in place to properly collect and manage their products at end-of-life.

"Most developing countries have no infrastructure whatsoever to collect and recycle computers, so when they die they are simply dumped and burned," Puckett said. "A truly responsible industry will take steps to ensure that innovation does not automatically equate to obsolescence, toxic waste and a growing population of hardware have-nots," he said.

BAN hopes to work with its Seattle area neighbor Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure that innovation and obsolescence are de-linked in future.

In the bahamas for a few days

See you all next Thursday!

Thursday, January 31, 2008


There are computers in the Himalayas, the Andes and the Arctic, and hardly a place left on earth to which someone has not brought a laptop or cell phone. High-tech electronics have transformed the world in ways that benefit us all. But in the 40-plus years since commercial semiconductor and computer manufacturing began, we have paid relatively little attention to the environmental and health impacts of producing and disposing of the microchip-powered devices that propel the Information Age. With 20 to 50 million tons of electronic waste discarded annually worldwide, some 2 million tons of e-waste — laden with lead and other heavy metals — going to U.S. landfills each year and environmentally risky recycling procedures overseas, the problems have become urgent.

When it can no longer be made to work, computer and other electronic equipment begins its circuitous return journey to smelters, refineries and plastics factories. In the United States, 90 percent of our discarded electronics are placed in landfills to slowly degrade, are liquefied in municipal incinerators or are stored away in basements and closets. In the absence of any federal regulation of e-waste, what we do with our electronic discards currently depends on laws enacted by state and local governments.

In recent years, state legislatures throughout the country have introduced dozens of e-waste bills, and a handful of substantive laws have now been passed. Many more are on the way. The impetus for this flurry of activity comes from several sources — primarily from overseas — that have awakened communities to the liabilities posed by improper disposal of e-waste.
Asked what spurred them to action, a number of government officials I have interviewed cited shocking photographs of e-waste exported to China, India and Africa for primitive recycling. The pictures — many taken by the Basel Action Network for its “Exporting Harm” and “Digital Dumps” documentaries — vividly show the health hazards posed by such practices. They also reveal identification tags linking the equipment to businesses, schools, governments and hospitals in the United States and other countries.

At the same time, the European Union (EU) has enacted legislation that makes electronics recycling mandatory and restricts the use of certain hazardous substances in new electronic s. Given the global nature of the high tech industry, these materials restrictions will effectively become international standards. They're already having an impact in the United States.
For example, Maine, Maryland and, most recently, Washington, have passed state e-waste bills that, like the EU's recycling law, require manufacturers to participate financially in the recycling process. Electronics recycling in the EU and in Japan carries no overt cost to the consumer, also a feature of the Washington law. The EU directive also requires manufacturers to provide materials listings to recyclers, a process in which U.S. electronics manufacturers already are involved.

Meanwhile, manufacturers have started expanding their U.S.-based take-back and recycling programs. In addition, several states — including California, Illinois, Michigan and New York — have restricted the use of substances included in the EU's legislation.

This proliferation of e-waste recycling options and requirements — confusing to consumers, recyclers and manufacturers — may prompt substantive action at the federal level. Furthermore, many changes in the design of high tech electronics to reduce their environmental impacts and health hazards are already underway. If the trend toward manufacturer participation in e-waste recycling continues, so should additional progress toward more ecologically sound products. Solving the problems posed by e-waste will require continued action, involving both consumer and industry responsibility, as well as regulation, both local and global.

Elizabeth Grossman is the Portland, Ore.-based author of High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, published by Island Press.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Illinois Comittment

Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich has issued an executive order instructing state agencies to recycle electronic equipment at the end of its useful life. The order, signed today, applies to all state agencies, boards and commissions under the governor's control. According to the publication Government Technology, the order was precipitated by research and recommendations from the Computer Equipment Disposal and Recycling Commission, established in 2005.

"By directing state agencies to be more responsible with potentially toxic electronic waste, we can ensure that state government is doing what it can to keep our land and water clean, and people safe," said Blagojevich in a statement, adding, "Industries and households across Illinois also dispose of outdated or broken electronic equipment. We should make sure they are not putting the public in harm's way when they dispose of their electronics. I will urge the General Assembly to build on the efforts of my administration by adopting statewide electronics recycling legislation."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Californians against Waste

Dear Supporter,

On Tuesday, February 5th, you will have the chance to make an important decision about the future of California's environment.

Californians Against Waste has been helping California's environment for over thirty years now and we couldn't have been able to do this without help from the environmental leaders in the state legislature. Currently, California's legislative term limits are just about the tightest in the country, and remain a barrier to effective governing, which is why CAW supports Proposition 93. Prop 93 strikes a balance that would still stick legislators with tight term limits, but allow legislators more time in one house, greatly increasing continuity and institutional memory necessary to be effective leaders.

The flaw in our current system is that it keeps legislators from gaining enough experience to be effective and to oversee the implementation of often complex, important legislation, including environmental laws.

Additionally, the current system often requires some of our best legislative allies to run against each other when their Assembly terms expire--after just 6 years. Case in point, CAW Legislators-of-the-Year Lloyd Levine and Fran Pavley have carried several successful recycling bills each during their 6 years in the Assembly. Now they are forced to run against each other for the Senate seat of another termed out CAW legislator-of-the-year: State Senator Sheila Kuehl.
Currently, legislators can serve up to three two-year terms in the Assembly and two four-year terms in the Senate, for a total of 14 years. Prop 93 would reduce the total amount of time a legislator can serve in the Legislature to 12 years, but allow a legislator to serve all 12 years in the Assembly or the Senate. This limit gives legislators time to gain experience, but still maintains a healthy turnover rate to allow for new issues to be brought up. It also helps drastically reduce the political jockeying that dominates Sacramento and help stabilize our system by breaking the cycle of legislators constantly wanting to move up the political ladder.

The Yes on Proposition 93 campaign has produced a video featuring Assemblymember John Laird of Santa Cruz, discussing the impact reforming term limits will have on environmental issues in California. Watch the video.

Other environmental groups support Prop. 93, including the Sierra Club and the CA League of Conservation Voters.

Thanks,Mark Murray

Executive Director

Monday, January 28, 2008

Flat Panel TV's

Flat Panel Displays (FPD) in electronic products such as televisions and computer monitors have quickly grown in popularity. The most common FPDs are liquid crystal displays (LCD) and plasma displays. By 2008, devices that contain FPDs are projected to account for nearly 85 percent of the total U.S. demand for electronic products. By 2013, the demand is predicted to reach 94 percent.

While relatively few FPD devices have entered the waste stream so far, they represent a potentially large volume of material that will be recycled or discarded in the future. Because of this, we need to fully evaluate how to manage these materials and determine if there are any potential risks associated with the end-of-life handling of these products.

Taking a proactive approach to this issue, the King County Solid Waste Division in Washington State has conducted the first known comprehensive review of information regarding the end-of-life management issues associated with FPDs. The goal was to identify and quantify potential chemicals of concern, evaluate hazards associated with these chemicals and assess potential risks from recycling electronic products containing FPDs. The results are reported in “Flat Panel Displays: End of Life Management Report,” which was published earlier this year. The report serves as a resource for a broad group of players — from local governments to e-waste processors — who are determining how to manage products that contain FPDs.

The report includes available information on the various chemicals used in FPD devices. Researchers found a considerable amount of data about the use and toxicity of chemicals of potential concern, including heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium, as well as brominated flame-retardants. Some uncertainty remains, however, about the full spectrum of potentially hazardous FPD constituents and the toxicity of some components, such as liquid crystals. Moreover, no studies have specifically addressed the potential exposure risks to recycling workers and communities near electronics recycling facilities.

LCDs are the dominant technology used in FPD devices. An LCD is made up of a number of pixels arrayed in front of a light source or reflector. Approximately 300 different liquid crystal compounds are available for use in LCDs. Depending on its specific performance attributes, a typical LCD can contain as many as 25 different liquid crystal substances.

Manufacturers of liquid crystals have run several batteries of toxicity tests of individual liquid crystals and a variety of mixtures. Findings to date suggest low acute toxicity, minimal skin/eye irritant effects, low potential for cancer effects based largely on mutagenicity tests, as well as low bioaccumulation potential and aquatic toxicity. For proprietary reasons, much of the supporting scientific data behind these conclusions were not available for review but reportedly meet or exceed European Union and Japanese criteria for hazardous material production and handling.
While available data suggest a low potential for harmful effects, testing regimens are based on the premise that long-term exposure to large quantities of liquid crystals is not likely. As a result, no chronic animal studies have been conducted that look at cancer and other effects following prolonged exposure to liquid crystals. Data on the potential for liquid crystal release during end-of-life management of LCDs also is absent.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has evaluated the potential hazards and risks associated with the release of liquid crystals as part of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) New Chemicals Program. For several years, companies have been required to submit “premanufacturing notices” to the agency. Based on these reviews, EPA has concluded that there is not an unreasonable risk associated with the manufacture, processing and use of this large class of chemicals. However, this determination is based on theoretical modeling studies, not actual toxicity data. In addition, TSCA doesn't typically require a New Chemical Program review for chemicals that are contained within imported “articles.” Therefore, liquid crystals employed in an imported manufactured item — such as a panel or complete display unit — may not be reviewed by EPA under TSCA. King County's report therefore recommends further evaluation of liquid crystals before a definitive conclusion is drawn regarding potential risks associated with the end-of-life management of liquid crystal compounds.

Researchers also conducted interviews with selected recycling facilities regarding their operating procedures, seeking to gather information on the primary processes currently used to recycle FPD devices. Researchers found many different processing procedures and a wide range of standards for workers' protective gear. The report identifies a need for industry guidance for recycling FPD devices. Researchers found the most probable sources for exposures and releases to the environment were from e-waste dismantling and from activities at recycling facilities such as manual disassembly, shredding, grinding, burning and melting (to reclaim plastics), solder melting and metals processing. More information is needed to develop appropriate risk management guidance.

The report also found that the few state and federal regulations and guidelines addressing end-of-life management of electronic products have limitations or do not address the recycling of specific components.

Where Do We Go from Here?

King County sees this report as an opportunity to further the conversation about the proper management and recycling of devices that contain flat panel displays. This report is a starting place for building a combined industry effort to learn more about the substances contained in flat panel displays and best practices for managing these materials. Ultimately, proper management approaches should protect workers, surrounding communities and the environment.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Climate Update

World's big polluters meet in Hawaii over climate

January 27, 2008 07:39 AM - Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The world's biggest greenhouse gas-polluting countries are sending delegates to Hawaii this week for a U.S.-hosted meeting aimed at curbing climate change without stalling economic growth. The two-day gathering, which starts on Wednesday in Honolulu, is meant to spur U.N. negotiations for an international climate agreement by 2009, so a pact will be ready when the current carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

E Bay and e Waste

TO KEEP DISCARDED COMPUTERS and other electronic products out of the nation's landfills, San Jose, Calif.-based eBay Inc. and a group of computer, governmental and environmental organizations have launched an e-recycling campaign. Called the Rethink Initiative, the project seeks to promote e-recycling awareness and to facilitate the safe disposal of electronic devices.

The focal point of the campaign is an eBay-run Web site ( that educates consumers about e-waste. Consumers can use the site to find an e-recycler located near them and to review a checklist of questions to consider when selecting a recycler. To prepare computers for recycling, the site provides a program that erases hard-drive data.

The Rethink Initiative also encourages consumers to resell their unwanted electronic devices or donate them to a charity. The program's Web site contains information on how to do both.
The initiative comes at a time when Americans are disposing of electronic devices in significant quantities. While unused electronic devices are often left in garages, closets or storage rooms, roughly 2 million tons of e-waste makes its way into landfills each year, according to the U.S.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington. Electronic devices often contain toxic substances such as lead and mercury, and environmental groups argue that it is dangerous to place them in landfills. Some states, such as California and Maine, have banned cathode ray tubes from landfills.

Chaz Miller, state programs director for the Washington-based Environmental Industry Associations, says there is no evidence that toxic substances leach from e-waste when placed in landfills. Still, he applauds the Rethink Initiative, calling it a “creative attempt” to remove electronics from the waste stream. “It's a great idea,” he says. “Let's see how it works.”
Other members of the Rethink Initiative are Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; Apple, Cupertino, Calif.; Gateway, Irvine, Calif.; Hewlett-Packard Co. Palo Alto, Calif.; and IBM Corp., White Plains, N.Y. The EPA is a participant as well. A complete list of the members also is available on the project's Web site.

The Rethink Initiative launch is not the only e-recycling news to emerge in recent weeks. The EPA's Plug In to eCycling Program has announced the results of four pilot projects held last year to test the viability of collecting used electronics in retail settings. The EPA provided technical services for the pilots.

In one month-long test, 115,000 pounds of used electronics were collected for recycling by Staples stores throughout New England. Another month-long pilot in the Pacific Northwest captured 197,000 pounds of televisions at Good Guys electronic stores. In a series of day-long collection events in Minnesota and Wisconsin held last summer and fall, 357,500 pounds of electronics were collected, primarily at Best Buy and Target stores. In the fourth project, Office Depot and Hewlett-Packard operated a more-than-two-month program that gathered more than 10.5 million pounds of electronics at Office Depots nationwide.

“The programs were successful,” says Dave Deegan, EPA spokesman. The agency is evaluating the pilot results to help outline future projects, he says.

The EPA also recently awarded eight contracts to small businesses to provide e-recycling and disposal services for federal agencies and buildings throughout the nation. Traditionally, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has handled the disposition of used federal electronics, says Oliver Voss, a service center manager for the EPA's Office of Acquisition Management.
Agencies will still be able to use GSA to get rid of old equipment. However, unlike the GSA, the EPA's contracted firms will provide an audit trail to show where the equipment ends up, Voss says.

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles