Large UK Retailers Required to Take-Back Electronics In-Store Starting January 2021

In the January 7, 2020 edition of Resource Magazine, Imogen Benson reported on new requirements for UK retailers regarding waste electronics and electrical equipment, aka WEEE, which includes not only computers and devices that people in the US typically consider “electronics,” but also appliances and white goods–items with a cord, essentially.

From the article:

“The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has approved the fifth phase of its Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS) for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), confirming that the DTS will cease to be applicable for larger retailers by the end of 2020. Under the UK WEEE Regulations, retailers must ensure that their customers are able to return unwanted electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) on a like-for-like basis when they purchase new items. The fourth phase of the DTS, which came to an end on 31 December 2019, allowed retailers to pay a fee to cover these recycling obligations, providing funds for local authority WEEE collection schemes at household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) and civic amenity sites. Under the new system, larger retailers with an excess of £100,000 of turnover in sales of EEE will no longer be able to join the DTS from 31 December 2020, but will instead be obliged to provide in-store take-back facilities from January 2021. Smaller stores and online retailers will be exempt from the changes.”

Read the full story at https://resource.co/article/large-retailers-will-have-offer-store-weee-take-back-2021.

Families of Child Miners Sue Tech Companies Over Human Rights Abuses

In the January 9, 2020 edition of Triple Pundit, Roya Sabri reported on a lawsuit filed by International Rights Advocates (IRA) on behalf of child miners and their families, against several major tech companies, including Apple, Alphabet (parent company of Google), Microsoft, Dell and Tesla. The lawsuit argues that tech companies, profiting from the cobalt supplies which are often supported by child miners’ efforts, should be responsible for the wellbeing of those subsistence cobalt miners.

From Sabri’s article:

The DRC supplies the world with more than 60 percent of its cobalt. A good portion is mined by subsistence miners — independent contractors who take it upon themselves to find and unearth the metal. The miners climb down shafts just wide enough for their bodies with no more than a flimsy headlamp, a hammer and a sack. If a worker gets hurt or dies, buyers take no responsibility and do not offer assistance or support. Reports by Amnesty International and The Washington Post in 2016 revealed these inhumane conditions, but little has changed for the better since then.

Young children are entering this work, often to help their families pay for the essentials needed to survive. The lawsuit’s plaintiff, labeled Jane Doe 1, reports that her nephew began working in mines to pay his $6 a month school fee. Last year, the tunnel where he was digging collapsed. The family never found his body.

The narratives documented by the lawsuit show that this boy’s story is not an isolated incident.

Read the full story at Triple Pundit: https://www.triplepundit.com/story/2020/silicon-valley-giants-sued-over-human-rights-abuses-cobalt-supply-chain/86141.

For the IRA press release related to this lawsuit, see http://www.iradvocates.org/press-release/iradvocates-files-forced-child-labor-case-against-tech-giants-apple-alphabet-dell.

For previous SEI posts related to cobalt in the electronics supply chain, see https://sustainable-electronics.istc.illinois.edu/?s=cobalt.

Upcoming EPA Webinar on Safe Packaging and Transport of Lithium Batteries

On Thursday, January 23, 2020, the US EPA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) Web Academy will present Safe Packaging and Transportation of Lithium Batteries for Recycling: What You Need to Know. The speaker will be Jordan Rivera of the US Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

From the SMM web pages:

Lithium batteries are key to our modern connected world, from our cellphones and computers to our cars (and not just electric cars) and have an increasing role in storing electricity for the electric grid. But, used lithium batteries aren’t exactly like the used alkaline or lead acid batteries that many are used to working with. Because of the battery’s level of charge and the materials that are inside of it, special preparation is needed when shipping these batteries to a refurbisher or recycler. On this webinar participants will learn how to prevent, reduce or eliminate risks of fire or explosions from the improper packaging, marking, labeling, or recycling of lithium batteries.

This SMM webinar will be hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and led by a subject matter expert from the Hazardous Materials Safety Assistance Team under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The webinar will focus on the safe transportation of lithium batteries for recycling and the applicable regulations that must be followed by battery shippers. It is designed for individuals in the battery recycling industry who need a working knowledge of the regulations, or who provide training to their employees on the applicable regulations. They will include an overview on the latest regulatory requirements on proper lithium battery packaging, marking, and labeling and as well as a basic understanding of how to apply the Hazardous Materials Regulations.”

Register for this webinar at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/13389156744558092. See https://www.epa.gov/smm/sustainable-materials-management-smm-web-academy-webinar-safe-packaging-and-transportation for additional information. Note the SMM Web Academy typically posts slides and a webinar recording after the presentation has occurred.

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