Green is Good

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The recent green movement has made environmentally friendly practices in the home and work world trendy again. For an individual, a family, or even a small office, these changes can be relatively easy. For a manufacturer of consumer electronics products, however, changes toward green-friendly practices often occur only after a substantial financial commitment and behavior modification have taken place. And, unfortunately, even a CE company with the best intentions does not always know how to go green.

While much has been mentioned recently about reducing the energy-hogging tendencies of the products that we manufacture and install, this is only part of the green equation. Other issues involve the types of packaging we use to ship products to market, as well as what happens to our gear at the end of its relatively short life cycle.

For all of its benefits, innovation brings with it the byproduct of rapid obsolescence. Electronic waste, or e-waste, refers to electronic products being discarded by consumers. Driven primarily by faster, smaller, and cheaper microchip technology, society is experiencing an evolution in the capability of electronic appliances and personal electronics.

Unfortunately, the e-waste problem will continue to grow at an accelerated rate. According to the EPA, nationally, an estimated 5 to 7 million tons of computers, televisions, stereos, cell phones, electronic appliances and toys, and other electronic gadgets become obsolete every year. Various reports also indicate that electronics comprise approximately one to four percent of the municipal solid waste stream.

Computer monitors and older television picture tubes contain an average of four pounds of lead. In addition to lead, electronics can contain chromium, cadmium, mercury, beryllium, nickel, and zinc. When electronics are not disposed of or recycled properly, these toxic materials can present problems. Recycling outdated electronics can promote the safe management of hazardous components and allows for the recovery and reuse of valuable materials.

More and more states are drafting legislation for the environmentally friendly disposal of electronic waste. States have begun to address the e-waste problem by taking steps to ban cathode ray tubes (CRTs) from landfills, imposing fees to fund recycling programs and having state agencies study ways to reduce the amount of waste.

One model to the e-waste problem is to impose a fee on new electronic equipment that is used to fund recycling programs. Another option to the growth of e-waste is to require manufacturers to develop and fund programs to collect and recycle the devices they make. The benefit of this type of legislation is it makes manufacturers more responsible for coming up with a solution to the e-waste problem by making more environmentally friendly products.

California was the first state to enact a state electronics recycling law in 2003. Other states that have followed with their own electronics recycling laws include Maine (2004), Maryland (2005), Washington (2006), and Minnesota (2007). The laws in these states create penalties for noncompliance, including financial penalties and products ineligible for sale in the state.

The challenge right now, as was pointed out by CEDIAs public policy manager Darren Reamon, is that with current e-waste laws only existing at the state-wide level, there is no consistency to the requirements. This can wreak havoc for any manufacturer trying to conduct business across state lines, affordably and ethically. This is one instance where federalizing a government program would make perfect sense. Green is good, but it is often a confusing and expensive proposition.