Organizations in Asia lag behind those in the United States and Europe in managing their waste and recycling programs, according to a non-profit trade body.
Asian companies that have corporate policies stating how their equipment and waste should be disposed do so not so much on a voluntary basis, but mostly due to pressure from U.S. companies or the government, said David Chng, director of the Asia-Pacific region at CHWMEG. Made up primarily of manufacturers, CHWMEG is an international trade association focused on waste, recycling and risk management.
In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Chng attributed this passive treatment toward waste management to the lack of stringent enforcement of rules and regulations. He explained that while there are rules in place, the enforcement is "usually on a case-by-case basis".
"The need for Asian companies to be proactive is [hence] somewhat reduced," Chng said.
Another factor to consider is the lack of uniform regulations, he added. In China, for instance, regulations are "complicated" as they differ across regions and provinces. A company may need to look for a waste management company located in another province, he said, but transporting waste across provinces could involve a fair bit of paperwork.
Nonetheless, companies need to ensure their waste disposal is done properly from the start so that cost incurred is reflected immediately and not years later, when the consequences might be financially damaging to them, Chng noted.
Citing a case in Taiwan, he described how the company had engaged a waste management vendor to dispose of medical waste, but was unaware that the vendor sent the material to a steel mill to be burnt in the middle of the night. This was not only hazardous to the environment but affected the purity of the steel, Chng said.
To help member organizations avoid possible litigation or penalties, CHWMEG provides independent reviews of global waste management facilities nominated by its members. The association conducts about five to 10 reviews in Asia every year. Since 1995, it has conducted over 1,400 reviews globally.
According to Chng, organizations in the region commonly point to a facility that has been approved by the local government as an excuse for not conducting facility audits or reviews.
"If there isn't a problem [in the way waste is managed], then having government approval is fine; if there's a problem, being 'government-approved' is not going to [help much]," he said.
Globally, regulations are forcing companies to step up efforts to be environment-friendly. The European Union's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive is expected to come into full effect on Jul. 1, 2007. The United States has its own Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of Superfund, which places the responsibility of any clean-up or compensation arising from pollution on companies, and not the waste-disposal vendors they appoint.
According to Chng, the requirements China is proposing for the disposal of electronics is similar to those proposed in the European Union. Keeping in line with global trends on recycling and waste management, he noted that Asian regulators are increasingly focusing on placing greater liability on polluters, or companies that generate the waste material. The authorities are also likely to enforce such regulations more strictly, he said.
Waste time for IT
Recycling is not a new concept for many IT companies. In a media statement last week, Hewlett-Packard said it recycled over 164 million pounds of hardware and HP print cartridges globally during its 2006 fiscal year, ended Oct. 31, an increase of 16 percent year-on-year. In Asia alone, HP nearly doubled the amount of recycled hardware to almost 7 million pounds.
The IT giant also announced it is on track to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronic products and printing supplies by end-2007.
Jean-Claude Vanderstraeten, HP's environmental director for Asia-Pacific and Japan, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that materials that cannot be recycled are recovered for energy when possible, or incinerated to minimize materials sent to landfills.
"We require vendors to store, handle and process materials in ways that prevent releases to the environment, and we prohibit the export of materials without our approval," Vanderstraeten said. "HP conducts regular site visits and assessments of our vendors."
Earlier this month, Dell Computer Chairman Michael Dell said he expects the PC maker to collect from customers 275 million pounds of electronic waste, regardless of the PC brand, by 2009. In October last year, Dell started a recycling program in the United States offering free home-pickup services for any of its PCs or peripherals.
HP and Dell are not members of CHWMEG, but IT vendors including Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, IBM, Intel, Lexmark and Seagate Technology are on the association's membership list.