E-plastics Could Replace Sand in Self-Compacting Concrete

In the March 29, 2019 edition of Resource Recycling, Jared Paben reported that researchers at the Vellore Institute of Technology in India found they could use granules of high-impact polystyrene from scrap electronics as a replacement for sand in self-compacting concrete. They also studied using fly ash from a power plant as a replacement for cement. They found HIPS and fly ash could be used at levels of up to 30 percent without significantly reducing strength, according to their paper, which was published in February in the journal Buildings. Self-compacting lightweight concrete is generally used on long-span bridges, the paper noted.

Read the full article from Resource Recycling at https://resource-recycling.com/plastics/2019/03/29/how-e-plastics-could-become-feedstock-for-concrete/.  To read the researchers’ article in the February 2019 edition of Buildings, see https://www.mdpi.com/2075-5309/9/2/50/htm. (Buildings 2019, 9(2), 50; doi:10.3390/buildings9020050)

European Recycling Platform UK Has Recycled 1 Million Tonnes of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment

In late March 2019, the European Recycling Platform (ERP) achieved a significant milestone, having recycled over 1 million tonnes (i.e. metric tons) of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in the UK. According to ERP UK, this is the equivalent of preventing the release of 1,400 tonnes of ozone depleting substances. This also represents a savings of 4 billion kWh of primary energy.

ERP infographic

ERP infographic part 2

To read the full press release, see https://erp-recycling.org/uk/news-and-events/2019/03/erp-uk-hits-a-milestone-1-million-tonnes-of-weee-recycled/.

Green Electronics Council Seminar and Workshop: Leveraging Technology and Procurement

On Thursday, June 13, 2019, San Diego State University and the Green Electronics Council are co-sponsoring a full day event focused on sharing lessons learned, tools and best practices with a focus on leveraging procurement and technology towards sustainability. This seminar and workshop is applicable to members of college and university sustainability teams, procurement staff and those responsible for high-performing or “green” buildings on campus.

Participation in this full-day seminar and workshop is free for higher education staff. Registration is required. For the agenda, speaker information, session details, and to register, visit https://greenelectronicscouncil.org/june_13_workshop/.

Video Illustrates Materials Used in Smartphones and Amounts

Check out the video below from the Sustainable Earth Institute of the University of Plymouth (in the UK).

Besides allowing one to vicariously experience childish glee at watching the destruction of a smartphone by blender (which we of course should NOT try at home), the video provides a brief glimpse at the process of analyzing materials in a lab. Most importantly, it does an excellent job of helping viewers visualize the relative amounts of materials present in the phone, including coins for comparison to a familiarly-sized object (few of us know what 0.7 g or 10 mg really looks like without a reference object for comparison).

The video goes a step further by providing a visualization of the relative amounts of those component elements which would be present in a year’s worth of smartphone production, with a human figure and soccer pitch provided for reference. It’s a great example of how to effectively translate abstract statistics into accessible, meaningful information for the general public.

This would be excellent for presentation to students of all ages, as part of discussions related to industrial design, materials sourcing and impacts, why reclamation of materials from electronics is so important, etc.

To read the full post on this video and the scientists behind it ( Dr. Arjan Dijkstra and Dr. Colin Wilkins, geologists from the University’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences ), see https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/news/scientists-use-a-blender-to-reveal-whats-in-our-smartphones.

 

Discard Studies Post: Mapping US Electronics Manufacturing Pollution

Today on the Discard Studies blog, Josh Lepawsky takes a look at the upstream impacts of electronics manufacturing in the United States–specifically by analyzing chemical releases from the industry over time, using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data.

He writes: “These maps and their data point to three primary issues in pollution and discard studies: 1) waste and wasting occur not only at the end point of discarding consumer items, but at multiple points along the manufacturing and supply chain. A focus on end-of-life rather than the entire life cycle can cause an analytical near-sightedness when it comes to understanding a sector’s waste impacts. 2) One of the primary methodological issues with doing studies on externalities is that they are rarely counted– they are made invisible by their very externalization. Using publicly available data in new ways can start to open up the otherwise hard-to-see infrastructure of waste and wasting. 3) The data we can find, especially on industrial waste, is always partial and always tells a partial story. Here, it looks like overall pollution is decreasing over time, but really it is just being moved in space. Other places do not have the same kind of reporting of emissions, so the shifted pollution is rendered invisible once again.

Read his full post at https://discardstudies.com/2019/03/18/25-years-of-toxicants-from-us-computers-and-electronics/.

Check out the Discard Studies blog for more discourse on waste issues. From the site: “Discard Studies is designed as an online hub for scholars, activists, environmentalists, students, artists, planners, and others who are asking questions about waste, not just as an ecological problem, but as a process, category, mentality, judgment, an infrastructural and economic challenge, and as a site for producing power as well as struggles against power structures.

For more information on the US EPA’s TRI program and available data, see https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program.

Nova Scotia Expands Extended Producer Responsibility, Bans Certain Electronics From Landfill

The Canadian province of Nova Scotia has announced expansions of extended producer responsibility laws, rolling out landfill bans for for the following items, effective March 1, 2020:

  • microwaves
  • e-book readers
  • GPS devices
  • video game systems and controllers
  • external hard drives, optical drives, and modems
  • used oil, oil filters, and oil containers
  • glycol, which is a coolant, and glycol containers

Affected industries must develop or expand recycling programs for these products, and be ready with programs by January 1, 2020.

Read the full announcement here: https://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20190206001.

You can also visit the web site of the Electronic Products Recycling Association (EPRA), which has been running Nova Scotia’s electronics recycling program for the past 10 years. EPRA will expand its program to recycle the new products. https://epra.ca/

Logo of the Province of Nova ScotiaElectronic Products Recycling Association logo

iFixit Begins Regular Right to Repair Podcast With Live YouTube Event

On January 31, 2019, iFixit hosted a live event on its YouTube channel, providing an overview of the Right to Repair movement including input from movement leaders Nathan Proctor, Gay Gordon-Byrne, and Jessa Jones.  You can watch the recorded livestream at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-zU8f_olwU&feature=youtu.be, or download it from https://www.buzzsprout.com/252243/939881 or from iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-right-to-repair-podcast/id1451251273.

According to the iFixit blog, “The coalition at Repair.org has been hard at work getting 15 states to introduce Right to Repair bills so far this year. But just like any grassroots movement, they need as much support as they can get—which is why we started a podcast to help spread the word! Every other week, we’ll be gathering special guests to update you on the latest Right to Repair news. You’ll hear stories about the fixers fighting for fair repair legislation, learn how to start a coalition in your state, and get tips for talking to your state representatives…Future episodes will focus on specific Right to Repair issues, so leave a note in the comments telling us what topics and guests you’d like us to feature!

The next broadcast is scheduled for Thursday, February 14th at 11 AM PST (1 PM CST) on the iFixit YouTube Channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/iFixitYourself. If you participate in the live event, you’ll get the chance to ask the presenters your questions about repair and associated legislation. Again, the video will be recorded for later viewing on YouTube and the audio will be shared on their social accounts the following day.

Illinois is one of the states that has previously introduced Right to Repair bills. For more information on the Right to Repair movement, see the Repair Association’s web site, https://repair.org/, and also check out posts tagged “Right to Repair” on the Illini Gadget Garage blog: http://illini-gadget-garage.istc.illinois.edu/tag/right-to-repair/.

Right to Repair advocacy image
Right to Repair advocacy image from Repair.org

Scottish Researchers Work to Extract Gold from E-Scrap

According to an Oct. 3, 2018 article by Kirstin Linnenkoper in Recycling International, a research team at the University of Edinburgh, lead by Professor Jason Love, are developing a new chemical reagent to more effectively extract gold from electronic scrap.

Around 7% of the world’s gold is inside e-scrap, of which less than one-third is currently salvaged, according to project leader Professor Jason Love. One tonne of gold ore contains around up to 5 grams of pure gold. However, a tonne of discarded mobile phones easily holds 300 grams of the valuable metal, Love says. The chemical reagent pioneered by in Edinburgh effectively recovers ‘a very high purity of gold’ from various types of discarded electronics. First, the researchers place the printed circuit boards in a mild acid to dissolve metallic parts. An oily liquid containing the new reagent is then added, which allows gold to be extracted selectively from the complex mixture of metals found inside electronics. Professor Love explains that, normally, one molecule of reagent binds directly to a metal molecule. The innovative compound uses a different type of chemistry and can bind to clusters of gold molecules instead of just one. ‘This means you can use a lot less of it to recover the same amount of gold,’ he says.

The researchers hope to find ways to recover other metals, including valuable (e.g. palladium, platinum, and neodymium), common (e.g. copper and tin), and toxic (e.g. lead and cadmium) metals. Similarly, they are interested in exploring chemical means to more effectively recover plastics from electronic scrap.

Read the full article at https://recyclinginternational.com/e-scrap/scottish-researchers-find-way-to-target-metals-in-e-scrap/.

Learn more about the research of Professor Love’s group, and find links to their publications at https://jasonlovegroup.wordpress.com/.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2011 publication, “Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report” can provide further background context: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8702/-Recycling%20rates%20of%20metals%3a%20A%20status%20report-2011Recycling_Rates.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y.

Finally, visit https://ifixit.org/recycling for more information on why electronics recycling is not as effective a practice as one might think.

close up of circuit board, showing gold

RSN Recommends Regulatory Enforcement, Investor Engagement to Urge Corporate Due Diligence on Conflict Minerals

The Responsible Sourcing Network (RSN), is a project of the nonprofit organization As You Sow, dedicated to ending human rights abuses and forced labor associated with the raw materials found in consumer products. On October 18, 2018, RSN released its Mining the Disclosures 2018: An Investor Guide to Conflict Minerals Reporting in Year Five report, which “analyzes 206 companies’ supply chain due diligence efforts regarding conflict minerals, including tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold, or 3TG. In the fifth consecutive year of analyzing companies’ conflict minerals compliance and reporting, the report shows that a large number of the companies’ scores stayed flat or decreased.”

Read the full press release at https://www.sourcingnetwork.org/press-release-mtd-2018. You can download this year’s report, those from previous years, and watch a webinar about the 2018 report at https://www.sourcingnetwork.org/mining-the-disclosures.

Cover of the Mining the Disclosures report

According to RSN, “The technology sector outperformed all others, while laggard industries included integrated oil & gas, steel, business services, and building materials. Innovative companies showed constant improvements, including increased participation in on-the-ground initiatives, proactive risk assessments, and comprehensive risk mitigation measures. However, compared to 2017, a majority of companies’ scores that reflect alignment with the OECD’S Conflict Minerals Guidance declined. The results show a global lack of desire to improve due diligence practices over the last few years.

“Conflict minerals” include tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (aka 3TG). They are so called because these minerals are often sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is one of the most mineral-rich countries in the world, and in recent years, unfortunately also one of the most war-torn. Militant groups controlling mines have used violence, including murder, torture, rape and other sexual violence, forced labor and use of child soldiers, in their control of the populace to further their profit from sale of these minerals and their war efforts. Conflict minerals are used in a wide variety of electronic devices, and are also found in a variety of other products, including jewelry, dental products, tools, biocides, ammunition, medical devices, and others. For more information, see https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/conflict-minerals/ and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conflict_resource#Conflict_minerals.

Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Action, passed in 2010 and implemented starting in 2012 by the Securities and Exchange Commission, requires that all companies publicly traded in the the US with products containing any of the four conflict minerals report on the source of the minerals in their supply chain. This required transparency has not eliminated human rights issues associated with conflict mineral sourcing, but it has demonstrably improved conditions for Congolese miners. Before passage of the law, the UN reported that nearly every mine in Congo was controlled by armed groups. As of 2016, the independent research institute, International Peace Information Service (IPIS) found that 79% of “3T” miners surveyed in eastern Congo were working in mines where no armed group involvement had been reported. (See https://enoughproject.org/special-topics/progress-and-challenges-conflict-minerals-facts-dodd-frank-1502).

RSN cites the Trump administration’s “contempt for regulations” and threats made last year to “suspend Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act” as part of the reason for the decline in corporate due diligence related to conflict minerals sourcing. “The disregard of corporate responsibility for conflict minerals during the Trump administration is concerning,” said Raphaël Deberdt, author of the Mining the Disclosures 2018 report. “The increasing neglect of the conflict minerals legislation from some companies over the past few years has been a source of human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. And these abuses extend beyond the 3TG sphere.

According the RSN press release: ‘Companies involved in mineral supply chains — from mines to retailers — now face additional challenges that must be integrated into corporate risk mitigation frameworks. The increasing importance of cobalt, lithium, and nickel in the automotive and technology sectors should trigger red flags in compliance departments in a broader risk context, including environmental degradation, organizational health and safety, human rights, and community impacts. Similarly, the upcoming EU regulation will necessitate increased due diligence from importers of 3TG, not only from the Congo region, but from all conflict-affected and high-risks areas. “The results of this year’s report demonstrate the need for an increase in regulatory enforcement and investor engagement that urge companies to undertake proactive due diligence efforts,” said Patricia Jurewicz, vice president of Responsible Sourcing Network. “These programs must continuously improve to address and mitigate the evolving material risks associated with conflict mineral supply chains.”

RSN further asserted that “leading companies” such as Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Qualcomm, Ford, Royal Philips, and HP “prove that taking a due diligence approach to reduce harmful impacts on the communities producing the raw materials in our electronics is an achievable and beneficial business model.

The Mining the Disclosures report was sponsored by As You Sow and the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), which is holding its annual conference on October 31-November 2, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA.

 

3D Printing Potential Negative Impacts–Five Resources

Additive manufacturing, more commonly referred to as 3D printing, is an increasingly widespread technology in schools, libraries, and other public makerspaces, often seen as a part of STEAM education. Manufacturers and innovators see the technology as means to create products or necessary items cheaply and relatively quickly, and in many cases with less waste of material than in other manufacturing processes–see for example, the MIT Technology Review article on GE’s use of additive manufacturing to produce fuel nozzles for aircraft engines. In developing nations, 3D printing can offer a means to more easily provide items that add to quality of life at a lower cost than typical. For example, the Victoria Hand project 3D prints prosthetics to assist amputees. 

With so much positive potential, what could possibly be the downsides of 3D printing?  While negative impacts might not be immediately obvious, sustainability advocates must always consider all potential impacts of a technology, product, or action, both positive and negative. The following resources are a good start for considering the often overlooked potential negative impacts of 3D printing.

  • The Health Effects of 3D Printing. This October 2016 article from American Libraries Magazine discusses exposure to ultrafine particles (UFPs), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the risks of bacterial growth in small fissures found within 3D printed objects. The authors provide some very basic tips for reducing risks to patrons and library staff members.
  • 3-D printing: A Boon or Bane? Though a bit dated, this article by Robert Olson, a senior fellow at the Institute for Alternative Futures in Alexandria, VA, in the November/December 2013 issue of the Environmental Forum (the policy journal of the Environmental Law Institute) does a good job of outlining some of the issues that need to be considered when assessing the impacts or appropriateness of this technology. “How efficient are these technologies in the use of materials and energy? What materials are used and what are the worker exposure and environmental impacts? Does the design of printed objects reduce end-of-life options? Does more localized production reduce the carbon footprint? And will simplicity and ubiquity cause us to overprint things, just as we do with paper?
  • The dark side of 3D printing: 10 things to watch. This 2014 article by Lyndsey Gilpin for Tech Republic concisely outlines ten potential negative impacts, such as the reliance on plastics, including some that may not have occurred to you, such as IP and licensing issues, bioethics, and national security. Note the mention of 3D printed guns, which have been in the news a fair amount during 2018.
  • 3-D printer emissions raise concerns and prompt controls. This March 26, 2018 article by Janet Pelley in Chemical & Engineering News focuses on potential negative health impacts of inhaling VOCs and plastic particles. “Although the government has set workplace standards for a few of the VOCs released by 3-D printers, these are for healthy working-age adults in industrial settings such as tire or plastic manufacturing plants: None of the compounds is regulated in homes or libraries where 3-D printers might be used by sensitive populations such as children. Furthermore, researchers don’t know the identity of most of the compounds emitted by printers. “Scientists know that particles and VOCs are bad for health, but they don’t have enough information to create a regulatory standard for 3-D printers,” says Marina E. Vance, an environmental engineer at the University of Colorado, Boulder. What’s more, data from early studies of 3-D printer emissions are difficult to use in developing standards because of variability in the test conditions, says Rodney J. Weber, an aerosol chemist at Georgia Institute of Technology. Two years ago, UL, an independent safety certification company, established an advisory board and began funding research projects to answer basic questions about the amounts and types of compounds in 3-D printer emissions, what levels are safe, and how to minimize exposures, says Marilyn S. Black, a vice president at UL. The company is working to create a consistent testing and evaluation method so that researchers will be able to compare data across different labs. ‘By this fall we will put out an ANSI [American National Standards Institute] standard for measuring particles and VOCs for everyone to use,” she says. See the UL Additive Manufacturing pages“, specifically the “library” section for their currently available safety publications.
  • 3D Printing and the Environment: The Implications of Additive Manufacturing. This special issue of Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology from November 2017 is the least “layperson friendly” resource provided in this post, but includes a variety of research articles providing important insights into its environmental, energy, and health impacts.