To start, many businesses purchasing new computers are considering energy use by choosing more energy efficient machines ( laptops use 90 percent less energy than desktops) and opting for those with power management features. It's estimated that one workstation (computer and monitor) left on after business hours produces nearly one ton of CO2 per year, a figure which could be reduced by 80 percent if computers were turned off at night and standby features were enabled. In fact, 7 million tons of CO2 would be saved each year if all US computers and monitors were turned off overnight, thereby allowing the nation to shut down eight power stations. At Colorado State University where energy increases total more than $3.5 million a year, officials estimate that if half of the 16,718 electronic devices (12,000 of which are computers) on campus were configured with ENERGY STAR features, the university would achieve an annual savings of about $40,000.
Most copiers, printers, and fax machines add to the energy load, even when not in use, so setting power management features to their eco-friendliest (such as choosing standby) will ensure they run efficiently. Choosing ENERGY STAR options and using a standby or sleep feature can save businesses nearly 50 percent on equipment energy consumption. Implementing paper use standards and setting copier defaults to double-sided copying will also go a long way toward saving paper.
In 2005 1.9 to 2.2 million tons of electronics became obsolete or unwanted. Of that total, just over 350,000 were recycled while the rest were sent to the landfill. That’s an average of about 400 million units every year. E-waste is the fastest growing portion of the US waste stream, rising at rates around 8 percent yearly. Computers alone add vast amounts of toxic heavy metals and plastics to the mix every year: 1 billion pounds of lead, about 2 million pounds of cadmium, 1.2 million pounds of chromium, more than 4 billion pounds of plastic, and almost 400,000 pounds of mercury. The toxicity of mercury is well known as well, and it is potent in acute quantities. Just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury can pollute and contaminate a 20-acre lake, rendering its fish unsuitable for consumption.
By the end of 2007, the number of cell phone subscribers reached close to 3 billion, up from 2.5 billion the year previous. On average, cell phones are retired every 18 months. Since 2000, less than one percent of phones have been recycled or reused, and more than 500 million cell phones populate landfills now. Fewer than 30 percent of used printers are recycled in the US every year, adding to a 50 million ton pile of trashed electronics annually. Over 67 million laser printer cartridges are purchased by Americans each year, and the number’s rising all of the time. Of that number only 27 percent are refurbished. More than 300 million cartridges from printers and copiers end up in the trash worldwide every year, close to 100 million in the US alone. This adds up to more than 1.7 million tons of waste annually, with components that take 450 years to decompose.
Electronics are generally composed of a variety of materials: 17 percent plastic, 20 percent glass, 30 percent steel, as well as various others, including heavy metals. A recent study by the American Chemistry Council concluded that although these machines are comprised of mixed materials, including different types of plastics, flame retardants, and so on, it is possible to recycle most of the materials, many of which can be reused in other high-end applications. This not only keeps usable materials in the product chain, it can also be a profitable endeavor as many of the components yield readily re-usable parts.
The Per Capita Collection Index (PCCI), an electronics recycling index created by the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER), has increased in recent years with education and more broadly available programs; between 2006 and 2007, the PCCI rose 14 percent. This is also due in part to new regulations for e-waste recycling; businesses with 220 pounds or more of e-waste per month must meet US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for disposal.
Questions to get you started...
- Does the building have an Energy Management system to track energy use and reduce energy costs?
- Are employees actively encouraged to turn off computers, monitors, copiers, and printers overnight?
- Is energy efficiency factored into your procurement policy?
- On average, how many of the electronics in the building are ENERGY STAR?
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Regulatory Program for “E-Waste”
- Five Winds International - Toxic and Hazardous Materials in Electronics: An Environmental Scan of Toxic and Hazardous Materials in IT and Telecom Products and Waste
- Basel Action Network An international organization focused on the fair and safe disposal of electronics.
- National Electronics Product Stewardship Initiative A solutions-oriented collaborative for the growing US e-waste problem.
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Plug-In to eCycling Partners A program between the EPA and manufacturers and retailers to facilitate the recycling of electronics.
- Ideal Bite - Thought you were making a difference by saving energy at home?
- City of Portland Office of Sustainable Development - Green Office Guide
- Colorado State University - Configuring Desktop Computers to Turn Off During Periods of Inactivity
- Australian Government Department of the Environment and Water Resources
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Wastes: eCycling
- Computer Take Back Campaign - The Problem
- Computer Take Back Campaign - Brominated Flame Retardants in Dust on Computers
- Electronic News Net - Global Mobile Phone Connections Hit 2.5 Billion
- Ideal Bite - Saying 'Ciao' to your old cell phone?
- ConsumerReports - E-waste Survey 2006: Disposal Method: Computer Peripheral Page 32
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Ink Wars: The fight to recycle your old printer cartridges is about to get messy.
- GreenBiz.com - How Small-Office IT Can Make a Big Impact
- American Chemistry Council - Ten Facts to Know about Plastics from Consumer Electronics
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Electronics Reuse and Recycling: Electronics Reuse and Recycling Page 2
- National Center for Electronics Recycling - NCER Per Capita Collection Index
- US Environmental Protection Agency - eCycling Regulations/Standards: Large Quantities