When Earth Day was first proposed in 1969, its proponents could not have foreseen how rapidly electronics products would become electronics waste (e-waste). According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2.5 million tons of e-waste is generated each year in the United States alone. The United Nations — which sanctioned Earth Day in 1970 — also didn't foresee that most of the US's e-waste would be exported to other nations.
A lot of the components and materials in e-waste — plastics, metals, glass, and other elements — can safely be reclaimed and recycled. However, this is an expensive process; so many industrialized nations export old computers, cellphones, TVs, and other equipment to developing nations. The low-cost labor in these countries provides a cost-effective method for breaking down old electronics. However, many of the local laws governing these nations do not provide the level of protection organizations such as the EPA and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provide in the US. The workers that are handling and processing e-waste may not be aware of the effects that lead, cadmium, mercury, and certain plastics have on the human body when they are touched or inhaled.
Lifting no finger
In China, Ghana, and India, some recyclers do little to prevent the release of toxic materials, according to a recent article in BusinessWeek. Workers use acid to etch metals from circuit boards, polluting the environment with heavy metals, and burn the plastic covering off of wires to get at the copper underneath.
There are numerous ways to prevent and control e-waste, and every company in the electronics supply chain can contribute to the effort. Rochester Electronics, for example, adds value in a number of areas. Rochester is able to extend the lifespan of many electronics components that are deemed obsolete by suppliers by acquiring end-of-life (EOL) inventory; re-manufacturing devices; or re-creating parts from suppliers' intellectual property (IP). Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), in turn, can use these components to extend the lifecycle of their equipment and keep it out of landfills for a longer period of time. The longer existing equipment is used, the less churn there is in the upgrade cycle.
Rochester performs these services with full support from original component manufacturers (OCMs). Rochester and its partners also collaborate in planning for EOL. Within the semiconductor industry, certain disciplines can be applied to help avoid the unnecessary wasting of resources, time, money, and man-hours associated with end-of-life announcements, hard-to-find devices, and counterfeit components that find their way into the supply chain. If a product has to be re-manufactured or re-created, Rochester can build the green equivalent of that device — again, with full support from suppliers.
Extending the lifespan of equipment not only delays its advancement toward landfills, but enables governments, businesses, and health organizations to find better ways of reclaiming and recycling e-waste — and protecting workers. With time, workers will use machines to strip plastic and reclaim copper and other material used in electronics. They won't be doing it by hand and the economics will allow for efficiencies in the process. Better practices and better planning not only benefits the Earth, but its inhabitants as well. Those are two of the goals the founders of Earth Day have always envisioned.