Since we just celebrated something like the 13th anniversary of America Recycles Day this week, I've been bombarded with all sorts of news related to how businesses should handle electronic waste. The whole issue is gaining much wider visibility with the formation earlier this month of a federal task force that will focus on figuring out the federal e-waste impact and what should be done about it. This is a big deal because, so far, the only place where anything meaningful or practical has happened as far as e-waste policy is at the state level.
The task force, which includes Council on Environmental Quality, the Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration says it will focus on best practices for sustainable electronics management. Among other things, the government is looking at how the materials contained within computers, monitors, printers and such might be reclaimed and reused. For example, according to the new task force, here's what you can pull out of ever 1 million mobile phones that are recycled:
- 75 pounds of gold
- 772 pounds of silver
- 33 pounds of palladium
- 35,000 pounds of copper
Hmmm. Gold now costs something like $1,300 per ounce. Could the feds be missing a potential way to help offset the deficit?
Here's a comment on the e-waste predicament from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson:
"Far too many used electronics end up in landfills or exported to nations where there is little capacity for safe management. Rather than benefitting from the reuse and recycling of valuable components, we see increased exposure to the toxic chemicals and other harmful substances in electronics devices. EPA has made the handling of used electronics and e-waste one of our top priorities, and through this task force the U.S. can become the world leader in sustainable electronics management."
For some insight into how recycled materials components could inform your technology future, I direct you to a series of updates from Hewlett-Packard today related to its recycling efforts. One of the key milestones for HP is this: To date, the company the company has turned recycled plastics collected from its printing and imaging supplies into 1 billion ink cartridges.
By 2011, the company is hoping to use up to 100 million pounds of recycled plastic in its printing products. That includes some of its printers -- notably the HP Deskjet 3050 All-in-One, which incorporates up to 35 percent recycled plastic -- and, yes, that is a cumulative number. Since 2007.
HP has estimated that the impact of its decision to use recycled plastics (including 160 million ink cartridges and 1.3 billion plastic water bottles commandeered for this process) versus virgin plastics for some applications and products is as follows:
- 22 percent reduction in carbon footprint, or something like taking 3,000 cars off the road for one year
- 69 percent reduction in total water use, or the equivalent of 169 million toilet flushes
In the future, the impact will be even more dramatic in favor of using recycled materials, the company predicts.
HP DID have to adapt some of its manufacturing processes in order to pull this off, which required an investment on its part. And of course, HP is hoping that some of its customers will follow its example and look at its technologies as tools for better sustainability within their own organizations.
One example is the work that HP is doing to offer retail publishing and processing technologies that could serve as an alternative to silver-halide systems. An HP-commissioned study by Four Elements Consulting found that using HP's options could help reduce the carbon footprint by up to 30 percent compared with silver-halide technologies.
Every little bit counts.