One Canadian province recently became a showcase of industry's efforts toward embracing its responsibility to clean up the environment.
The Saskatchewan Waste Electronic Equipment Program (SWEEP) was spearheaded by Electronics Product Stewardship Canada (EPSC) in answer to the Waste Electronic Equipment Regulation issued by the provincial government of Saskatchewan in October 2005.
EPSC is a national association of computer and electronic equipment manufacturers with the objective of establishing stewardship programs across the country for managing the end-of-life phase of various electronic products.
SWEEP is the first industry-led electronic end-of-life management program in Canada, and it certainly won't be the last, according to David Betts, EPSC president and CEO, and SWEEP executive director.
British Columbia is also expected to implement its own electronic product management regulation in June, Betts said. "Pretty much all of the provinces right now are thinking about [e-waste management].
"Most provinces, like Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec, are in various stages of assessing the situation and we anticipate that in the next few years, pretty much all the provinces will have come forward with regulations," he said.
Under Saskatchewan's Waste Electronic Equipment Regulation, sellers of desktop and notebook computers, printers, televisions or their associated components are required to be part of a product management program approved by the provincial government. The regulation aims to address the issue of e-waste management and ensure that obsolete electronic products are recycled or disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.
As the product management program approved by the Saskatchewan government, SWEEP has partnered with SARCAN Recycling, a network of 70 recycling depots across the province, for responsible recycling or dismantling of obsolete electronics such as CPUs, keyboards, computer monitors, laptops and printers.
Saskatchewan consumers and businesses can drop off their obsolete electronic equipment at any SARCAN depot for recycling, free of charge. The province's environmental handling fee (EHF), which is added to the cost of certain new electronic products at the point of purchase, funds the cost of operating SWEEP, Betts said.
EPSC has been pushing for the establishment of stewardship programs for ecologically responsible production, recycling and dismantling of electronics in an effort to reduce or eliminate toxic e-waste that often ends up in landfills or dumped in poor countries that have neither the resource nor the technology to safely recycle these materials.
"What you are seeing around the world is a push toward extending the (product) business cycle to account for the material when it becomes obsolete and is disposed of, so it doesn't end up in third-world countries and doesn't end up in landfills," explained Betts.
Seattle-based environmental lobby group Basel Action Network (BAN) believes Microsoft's recently launched Vista operating system will likely trigger a "tsunami of e-waste" as businesses and consumers dispose of their existing PCs to make way for newer systems that can run the new OS.
"BAN is concerned that Microsoft has done little to prevent or mitigate the massive hardware obsolescence that is likely to be caused by the release of its latest operating system," read a recent statement issued by BAN. BAN is actively pushing for the global prohibition of toxic e-waste dumping to developing countries.
A study by Softchoice revealed that 50 per cent of desktops in North American firms do not meet the minimum requirements to run Vista. When it comes to running Vista's premium hardware requirements, 94 per cent of these desktops don't measure up.
"It's shameful how little innovation and concern the electronics industry continues to demonstrate for the long-term consequences of their products in light of their abilities to innovate front-end gadgetry to encourage sales," said Jim Puckett, coordinator for BAN.
Microsoft was unavailable for comment.
Hardware vendors are also anticipating a surge of discarded computers as customers line up to buy new Vista-compatible PCs. PC makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HP) both have established computer reuse and recycling programs that let businesses and consumers turn in obsolete computers for proper end-of-life management.
"As enterprises deploy Vista, they may increase their rate of replacing, refreshing or updating PCs, and we're certainly happy to work with our customers on the disposition of machines they take out of service," said Michael Cuno, an HP spokesperson.
Dell said it was too early to tell if Vista adoptions would be fast enough to drive a surge in PC recycling, but the company did say it had recorded an increase from 22.7 million pounds of equipment collected from customers in 2004 to 39 million in 2005. The challenge in predicting future rates is that individuals don't always dispose of their old hardware immediately, said Dell spokesman Bryant Hilton.
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