Registration for Electronics and Sustainability Symposium is Open

Note: This post was written by SEI admin.

We are happy to announce that the registration for the Second Annual Electronics and Sustainability Symposium is open! The symposium is taking place at the I-Hotel and Conference Center, in Champaign, Illinois,on March 23-24, 2011. This event will serve as a forum for welcoming new ideas and alternative methods for dealing with the current electronic waste problem. It will also serve as an opportunity to interact with representatives from academia, industry, and government sectors. The panel discussion offered at the end of the first day will be an opportunity to generate new ideas and further partnerships to creating a better solution to this complex and evolving problem.

Topics to be addressed will include environmental toxicology, life cycle analysis, product design, existing and proposed policy, and more.  Designers, electrical engineers, chemists, materials scientists, electronics manufacturers, recyclers, refurbishers, and remanufacturers, government representatives and policy makers, pollution prevention technical assistance providers, relevant non-profit organizations, and others are invited to take part in this symposium.

John Pflueger, Principal Environmental Strategist at Dell, will be the keynote speaker during the symposium. Additional speakers include:

  • William Hoffman, UL Environment
  • Andrew Steckl, University of Cincinnati
  • Charles Newman, ReCellular
  • Courtney Rushforth, City of Urbana
  • Bill Olson, Motorola
  • Manish Mehta, National Center for Manufacturing Sciences
  • Alex Lobos and Callie Babbitt, Rochester Institute of Technology

Registration for the event is $200 for both days, or $125 per day. In addition, symposium attendees have an opportunity to visit the National Center for Supercomputing Applications on the University of Illinois campus on March 22, 2011. Further, students can receive a registration waiver by explaining in approximately 250 words, how this conference relates to their studies and why they deserve to get the wavier. Additionally, Professional Engineers can earn up to 6 PDHs by participating in the symposium sessions.

To register for this exciting event, visit:

Please contact Aida Sefic Williams, Conference Coordinator, with questions about registration or the event at

The Controversial Issue of Prison Labor

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

A month ago I posted an article about the differences between two types of certification programs for electronic recyclers.  The post elicited a frenzy of conversation.  A lot of the discussion had to do with defining aspects that made a recycler good or bad.  The use of prison workers in the recycling industry was one of these aspects in question.  BAN, a company in charge of one of the certification programs, is very much against the use of prison workers but many disagree.  So, what are the benefits to prison labor?  What are the reservations?

The program in charge of the United States federal inmates training program is UNICOR, Federal Prison Industries (FPI.)  The Recycling Business Group (RBG) is a section of FPI; it allows inmates to collect and repair/recycle electronics.  There are 8 RBG facilities across the US; none are able to be a part of certain certification programs due to their status as an inmate training program.

No doubt prison labor has a bad rap.  Does the opening scene of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” come to mind when I mention prison labor?  Some may picture these chained road gangs swinging axes in the hot sun and therefore, consider prison labor to be harsh.  Others may be under the opinion that prisoners have committed a crime and are paying for it so allowing them to have a job, something to occupy their time, almost as if they were not in prison at all, is too sympathetic.

Today’s prison labor is nothing like the work done by the Soggy Bottom Boys, nor is it a free pass out of prison.  Prison worker facilities are extensively scrutinized by OSHA, NIOSH, FOH and more to ensure worker safety and health.  Inmates work hard but the benefits pay off.  Inmates better themselves, can contribute to their families, and help the environment all at the same time.

Work is not only a way to acquire skills; work also fulfills a desire felt by all humans.  After physiological and safety needs, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that humans need to feel a sense of belonging.  And following that is a need for self-esteem (avoiding the feeling of worthlessness.)  The lack of these feelings can only encourage bad behavior.   Contributing to society through work would definitely have a positive effect on your approach to society. And so it has.  Inmates who participated in FPI’s industrial or educational programs were 24% less likely to return to prison than inmates who did not participate in FPI.  So, just about one out of four former inmates will avoid going to prison again just because they had an opportunity to work in prison.  They were also less likely to incur misconduct reprimands during their time in prison, to commit crimes after release, and more likely to find better paying, full-time jobs.  It also benefits the prisoners by contributing financially to their court-ordered fines, child support, and/or restitution.

BAN, the company in charge of one of the certification programs, expressed concern that prisoners are working under unsafe conditions and that using prison labor for the handling of e-waste is unsafe in terms of protecting your data.

Thankfully, this is not the case; UNICOR has safe working conditions.  Since prison staff work in the same facilities as prison workers, the facilities have to follow every law in terms of facility management.  In fact, along with the OSHA, NIOSH, and FOH checks, UNICOR’s recycling factories are inspected and reviewed by environment, health and safety regulatory agencies at the state and federal levels far more extensively than private sector recyclers.

As for the security issue, prisoners are not able to read hard drives in the facilities.  Prisoners are also not able to remove the hard drives from the factories.  Many private sector recyclers are not able to ensure this kind of security.  For example, one of UNICOR’s new clients destroys their hard drives themselves before they send it for recycling because they want to be certain that their information is destroyed.  This company switched from using a private recycler to UNICOR and as soon as UNICOR received their first trailer load of equipment, UNICOR noticed that some of the company’s hard drives were not destroyed.  UNICOR informed them immediately of the 8 hard drives still intact.  The company was shocked that the private company never informed them that this had been happening.  The company made some improvements which led to the second trailer load having only 2 hard drives still intact.  UNICOR also informed them of this.

There are a number of benefits to UNICOR but the overall point is to prepare inmates to be productive members of society when they leave prison.

“We must accept the reality that to confine offenders behind walls without trying to change them is an expensive folly with short term benefits — winning the battles while losing the war. It is wrong. It is expensive. It is stupid.” – Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, our Nation’s 15th Chief Justice.

Since there is an overcrowding of prisons in the United States, it is my opinion that it is more important than ever to start working on a solution to help people who need work experience the most.  Keeping them out of everyone’s way is no longer the answer.  We have to work towards improving their lives.  

Please look into this topic for yourself and feel free to share your opinions by commenting on this post.

The statements of this blog may not reflect the views of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability, or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Responsible Recycling (R2) and e-Stewards are the two major programs that certify electronic recyclers as responsible according to their own standards.  Redemtech, a recycler, reporter of e-waste news, and prominent contributor to e-Stewards (developed by a company called BAN,) has recently released a report comparing these two programs. The report is called E-Waste Recycling Standards: A Side-by-Side Comparison of e-Stewards and R2.  Just as the subtitle suggests, the Redemtech report shows a point-by-point comparison of e-Stewards and R2. Out of the 18 categories Redemtech has e-Stewards looking favorable in each and every one. So according to their report, R2 in no way compares to e-Stewards.

Is R2 really that bad? R2 was facilitated by the U.S. EPA and developed by ISRI, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc, which represents the Recycling industry so was the recycler’s view overly considered? I took a look at what Redemtech had to say.

Continue reading “The Controversy: e-Stewards vs. R2”

Continuing the Conversation, Part II

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

February’s Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment Symposium highlighted some great work and ideas given by experts in the field sustainable electronics.

In hopes of continuing the discussion I am posting a multi-part series addressing different topics raised at the symposium.

The first part can be viewed here. This, the second post of this series, will address issues posed before manufacturers/designers.

It is always exciting to hear lectures from someone in your field let alone those talking about something you are truly interested in. But I don’t think you had to be a designer to enjoy Rajib Adhikary’s presentation at the Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment Symposium. Mr. Adhikary is a design strategist for Dell Inc. He has been working in the industrial design field for 15 year and has a unique background contributing to his global problem solving approach to sustainable electronics.

Continue reading “Continuing the Conversation, Part II”

Continuing the Conversation

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Last week we announced some highlights from our symposium held in February. Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment elicited a frenzy of information and thought provoking ideas. An extensive amount of topics were covered through a variety of perspectives.

In hopes of continuing the discussion I plan on posting a multi-part series addressing different topics raised at the symposium.

The first of this series will continue the topic from a recent post: export.

Continue reading “Continuing the Conversation”

SEI Symposium

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

The 2010 Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment Symposium held two weeks ago was a great success! Over 20 impressive speakers in the fields of academia, manufacturing, retail, government, and recycling presented their take on electronics and sustainability. We had an impressive turnout, lively conversation, and overall, a great time had by all.

Here are some highlights from the event: Continue reading “SEI Symposium”

The Exportation of E-waste

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

With a huge problem like e-waste it is hard to know where to begin.  Lets start by asking how much e-waste is exported.  Seems simple enough.  We can then decide if the exportation of e-waste should be of major concern.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) claims that the amount of e-waste being exported is big. In one of their videos, they vaguely implied that a lot of e-waste recyclers export the equipment they receive. They said, “plenty of companies…” “the vast majority…” and “all too often…” e-waste recyclers export computers.  BAN also interviewed a politician in Nigeria who estimated that 75% of the computer equipment that comes into his country is not in good enough shape for use and is therefore e-waste.

Continue reading “The Exportation of E-waste”

Designing Wastefulness

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

In one of my classes at the University of Illinois, each student was assigned to study a modern product in depth and then give a presentation on it a couple weeks later. The overall theme for the presentations was, “Newer is Better!” Whether it was a presentation about LED lights, Blue Ray lasers, Teflon, or electronics, the message was clear, this new technology far exceeds the old so it’s out with the old, in with the new.

I agree that most of these products exceed their earlier generation versions. They usually offer more features, perform better, and they even often use less energy. I am all for better designs, in fact, that is what my 4 years of undergrad in Industrial Design was all about.

I am, however, fearful that these designs encourage wastefulness. Continue reading “Designing Wastefulness”

The Future of E-Waste

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Electronic recycling has been a recognized problem for a while now but not a whole lot has been resolved.

Europe, among other places, has been actively trying to solve this issue since early 1990s.  So, what can we learn from them? What are the absolute best solutions for our environment when it comes to electronic waste and what is feasible? Continue reading “The Future of E-Waste”

Greener Electronics Start with Smarter Designs

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

Have you ever had a career hero? Someone in your line of work that you really admire? Perhaps a cliché example would be to aspire to have the business sense of Bill Gates.

I have three industrial design heroes. The first is Henry Dreyfuss, an American designer who made significant advancements in the usability and function of products during the middle of the century. The second is William McDonough, a designer and architect known for his ultra sustainable ideas. And the third is Naoto Fukasawa, a well-known Japanese designer famous for his simplistic and sleek products. I became interested in the latter after seeing just one of his designs in an industrial design class I had my sophomore year of college. It was, surprisingly enough, a CD player. Nothing really relevant to anything I was interested in much less relevant to that year (the age of ipods.)  Nonetheless, I was blow away. Continue reading “Greener Electronics Start with Smarter Designs”