The world is consuming more electronic products every year, and this has caused a dangerous increase in electronic scrap (e-waste) containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled safely.
But this problem can be avoided. To prevent an e-waste crisis, manufacturers need to design clean electronics with a longer lifespan, which are safe and easy to recycle and will not expose workers and the environment to hazardous chemicals. Manufacturers of electronic goods should take responsibility for them from production through to the end of their lives.
What IT directors can do
There are also some simple measures that IT directors can undertake to help "green" the electronics sector. Aim to buy the most environmentally sound equipment that meets the needs of your office and ensure you put as little electronic equipment into the waste stream as possible.
Put emphasis on leasing new products rather than buying them, specifically for large items. This is a way to increase manufacturer responsibility, as the products remain closer to the producer's sphere of influence.
Businesses should buy IT equipment that has been designed to allow:
- Upgradeability - expandable memory, modular design, owner transferability
- Easy dismantling and recycling - avoiding glues and welded connections, single-resin plastics, labelled plastics, universal fasteners.
To reduce turnover, replace equipment only when it has been used to the end of its useful life - when a product is beyond financially reasonable repair or upgrade, or it cannot be used with software that is considered standard in the office where the equipment is being used.
Recycle in the business
Recycle computer equipment through the business to make the most use of it. Give new equipment to high-end users first and then move it down the line to those who require only word processing, e-mail and basic internet browsing.
When you do need to discard electronic equipment, take all available measures to ensure it is disposed of in the most environmentally sound way possible.
Use disposal firms that:
- Recycle as much of the material as possible
- Have sound disposal policies for the parts that cannot be reasonably recycled
- Protect their workers from the toxic materials in the equipment
- Carry out disassembly and recycling domestically.
Use equipment for which the supplier offers a take-back programme whenever it is feasible to do so.
Green your office further with basic steps such as ensuring staff turn off their PCs at the end of the day. This will not only help the fight against climate change by saving electricity, it will reduce your power bill.
If we all work together and play our part while maintaining pressure on companies and governments to clean up and green the electronics sector, we can make huge improvements to the environment.
Zeina Alhajj is a toxics campaigner at Greenpeace International
Greenpeace has produced The Guide to Greener Electronics wit the aim of providing up to date information on electronic companies and their environmental policies. To download, visit www.greenpeace.org/rankingguide.
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This was first published in September 2006