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A Brief History and Update on Life Cycle Environmental Implications of Electronics. H. Scott Matthews Carnegie Mellon University April 12, 2005. An Interesting Problem. Information and communications technology (ICT) products and the systems that use them are a “double-edged sword”

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A brief history and update on life cycle environmental implications of electronics l.jpg

A Brief History and Update on Life Cycle Environmental Implications of Electronics

H. Scott Matthews

Carnegie Mellon University

April 12, 2005

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An Interesting Problem Implications of Electronics

  • Information and communications technology (ICT) products and the systems that use them are a “double-edged sword”

  • On one hand, they lead to environmental problems and concerns

  • However using them can allow us to significantly improve our use of resources, energy, etc.

  • Finding the balance requires a detailed, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach

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Sales of Computers Implications of Electronics(1980-2003)

Over 100 million PCs are sold per year now. In 2003, the

one-billionth PC was shipped since 1980. USA dominates

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Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) Implications of Electronics

  • A concept and methodology to evaluate the environmental effects of a product or activity holistically, by analyzing the whole life cycle of a particular product, process, or activity (U.S. EPA, 1993).

    • From raw material acquisition through production, use and disposal

    • What are example impacts at each stage?

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Motivations Over Time Implications of Electronics

  • Concerns related to end-of-life (EOL) equipment (early 1990s)

  • “Gloom and doom studies”

    • Carnegie Mellon University Estimates of PCs landfilled (1991, 97)

    • SVTC, Basel Action Network E-waste reports (2003)

    • Tantalum mining for cell phones in Africa

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EOL / Disposal Concerns For Electronics Implications of Electronics

  • Toxic substances such as lead could leach into soil and contaminate groundwater.

  • Technological advances could accelerate the turnover of TVs and computers.

  • Rapid advances could lead to storage, donation, repair, or disposal of working and non-working equipment.

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Europe: RoHS/WEEE Directives Implications of Electronics

  • The primary global motivation

  • RoHS: bans or restricts certain substances of concern (e.g. Lead)

  • WEEE: puts in place systems to require takeback and handling of EOL electrical and electronic products (not just PCs!)

  • Passed in last few years at EU level

    • But each EU country responsible for local definition, legislation, enforcement

    • Most EU countries have not fully implemented the required legislation yet

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TVs and Computer Monitors Implications of Electronics

  • Electronics (used to) share critical components

    • Cathode Ray Tube (CRT)

    • CRT screen contains lead

    • Protects the user from radiation

    • Lead weighs from four to eight pounds

    • Newer LCD screens have less problems but have other concerns (e.g. mercury in bulbs?)

  • Next series of slides gives specific data collected from one large state (Florida) about the magnitude of the problem

  • Also inspires the need for a solution

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Residential Length and Use of Disposal Practices - Implications of ElectronicsComputers

  • 63% of Florida’s households own a computer.

  • 35% of residents 65+ years old have a computer in the home compared to 80% of residents 18 to 34 years.

  • Fewer than 3% of residents had broken monitors in their home.

  • Computer owners will handle broken monitors the same way broken TVs are handled.

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Residential Awareness of Implications of ElectronicsHazardous Materials

  • 63% of residents are unaware of the hazards posed by CRTs.

  • Women were the least likely to be aware of the potential threat posed by CRTs to household or family.

  • Only 15% of residents were aware of demanufacturers or “recyclers” for electronics.

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Residential Preferences Implications of Electronicsfor Recycling

  • 44% of residents would prefer to recycle TVs and computer monitors at a donation center.

  • 58% of residents don’t want to pay anything for recycling electronics.

  • If a fee is imposed:

    • 50% of residents would prefer to have the fee imposed at the time of discard

    • 15% at the time of purchase,

    • and 11% itemized on the receipt at time of purchase.

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Educating the Public Implications of ElectronicsAbout Recycling

  • Residents don’t consider the CRT issue urgent and 70% don’t want additional information.

  • Younger residents (18-34) were the most interested in recycling information.

  • Residents rated county/city recycling programs as preferred education method for recycling info.

  • TV and Radio were stated as the best media for receiving information.

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CMU Dell Event Context Implications of Electronics

  • A few hundred people, 50 tons collected

    • About half from a few large groups (school districts, etc.)

    • Thus a few hundred individuals brought about 25 tons.

  • How much of the Pittsburgh-area e-waste did we likely collect?

  • What else could we do?

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The Evolving Electronics Infrastructure Implications of Electronics

  • The Evolution

    • Demanufacturers/Entrepreneurs

    • Corporate Recovery Programs

    • Government Regulatory Discussions

    • Local County Government Pilot Programs

    • Government Bans or Regulations

    • Media Coverage

    • Producer Responsibility

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Manufacturer Actions Implications of Electronics

  • Hewlett-Packard (HP) and IBM have long been industry leaders

    • Were amongst first companies to develop in-house electronics recycling facilities

    • Were first to offer publicly available takeback and recycling programs (for a fee)

    • Unclear what volume of recycled product and revenue streams look like

    • Unclear whether these programs are profitable

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State Actions (2005) Implications of Electronics

  • After more than 10 years of waiting, it seems that several states poised to pass legislation about takeback/recycling

    • California is often a leader at state-level environmental management (e.g. automobile emissions)

    • Other states look to California for leadership

    • California’s current plan not friendly to manufacturers - some headquartered in the state (e.g. HP)

    • Will place large burden on manufacturers not consumers

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Some Concerns Implications of Electronics

  • Computer recycling IS NOT FREE

    • There are many costs associated with logistics, handling, demanufacturing

    • Actual cost on order of $10-$20 per unit

    • Free events may send wrong signals to people about costs of recycling

    • Similar to how artificially low gas prices in US lead to purchase of large vehicles and 15,000 miles driven per car per year?

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Beyond End-of-Life Issues Implications of Electronics

  • In last 5 years, focus of much research has moved from EOL to sustainability of information and communications technology (ICT) systems

  • Expectation is that hardware issues will eventually be solved - but what will happen as ICT systems become more pervasive in the world?

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What is sustainability? Implications of Electronics

  • Sustainability is a concept related to managing growth

  • “Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”

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Press: Optimists vs. Pessimists Implications of Electronics

  • Energy consumption of Internet

    • Mills “Dig More Coal” vs. Romm/ Koomey

    • Study claimed that 10% of US electricity use was from the Internet

    • Later disproved but still gets much attention

  • Effects of Hardware Production

    • Total environmental flows of small DRAM chips (2g) were 2 kg (Williams 2002)

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Energy Flow Diagram Implications of Electronics

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36.3 GJ Implications of Electronics

32.7 GJ

Electricity Grid






Supply 40%

19.6 GJ

System Losses

We lose, on average, 80% of the energy we extract when using it for electronic products

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Power Naps Implications of Electronics

  • Campus initiative to set power management on computers/monitors (10-20,000 computers!)

  • Electricity use of computer equipment:

    • Desktop Computer: 110 W

    • CRT Monitor: 80 W

    • LCD Monitor: 24 W

  • Unlike PCs, monitors can be turned off quickly, easily, painlessly, and temporarily

    • Turning off monitors saves 72% of desktop energy

  • Could also save cooling energy use in summer from less need to dissipate heat (not included here)

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Growth of Retail E-commerce Implications of Electronics

  • US DOC began measuring and reporting retail e-commerce in March 2000

    • 4Q 03 = $17 Billion, up 25% from 4Q 02

    • Only 2% of retail purchases ($918 B)

  • Note the following are not considered retail (and thus also not counted)

    • Travel, financial, ticket brokering

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Will E-commerce Improve or Degrade the Environment? Implications of Electronics

  • Pro -

    • reduce private and commercial travel - avoid shopping trips,

    • remove transaction inefficiencies,

    • reduce logistic and manufacturing inefficiencies,

    • reduce waste of inventory and remainders,

    • digital manufacturing service provision

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Will E-commerce Improve or Degrade the Environment? Implications of Electronics

  • Con -

    • overhead of Internet infrastructure - electricity use increase, computers, switches, etc.

    • shift to high impact travel modes,

    • reduce scale economies - smaller shipment sizes,

    • stimulate growth,

    • encourage dispersion

    • Harry Potter

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Our Prior Research Implications of Electronics

  • Previously measured wired, wireless, and total electricity use of CMU campus network

  • Total: ‘network’ uses 5% of campus electricity (~5 MkWh / yr)

    • Wireless ‘equipment’: 5-10x less electricity than wired

  • While not purely generalizable, an indicator of the potential energy efficiency of wireless

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Wired vs. Wireless electricity (W per subscriber) Implications of Electronics

Thus, electricity use ‘per subscriber’ will rapidly favor wireless and trend to 10x

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Final Thoughts Implications of Electronics

  • ‘Efficiency’ of wireless (versus wired) communications is irrelevant!

  • For foreseeable future, we will have need for wired networks (if nothing else, to make long-range mobile calls!)

  • This dependency will limit our ability to realize energy savings from wireless

    • i.e., until we ‘pull the plug’, we are using more total energy to have both to use