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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

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

H. Scott Matthews

Carnegie Mellon University

April 12, 2005

an interesting problem
An Interesting Problem
  • 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
sales of computers 1980 2003
Sales of Computers (1980-2003)

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

one-billionth PC was shipped since 1980. USA dominates

life cycle assessment lca
Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)
  • 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?
motivations over time
Motivations Over Time
  • 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
eol disposal concerns for electronics
EOL / Disposal Concerns For 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.
europe rohs weee directives
Europe: RoHS/WEEE Directives
  • 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
tvs and computer monitors
TVs and Computer Monitors
  • 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
residential length and use of disposal practices computers
Residential Length and Use of Disposal Practices - Computers
  • 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.
residential awareness of hazardous materials
Residential Awareness of Hazardous 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.
residential preferences for recycling
Residential Preferences for 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.
educating the public about recycling
Educating the Public About 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.
cmu dell event context
CMU Dell Event Context
  • 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?
the evolving electronics infrastructure
The Evolving Electronics Infrastructure
  • The Evolution
    • Demanufacturers/Entrepreneurs
    • Corporate Recovery Programs
    • Government Regulatory Discussions
    • Local County Government Pilot Programs
    • Government Bans or Regulations
    • Media Coverage
    • Producer Responsibility
manufacturer actions
Manufacturer Actions
  • 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
state actions 2005
State Actions (2005)
  • 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
some concerns
Some Concerns
  • 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?
beyond end of life issues
Beyond End-of-Life Issues
  • 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?
what is sustainability
What is sustainability?
  • 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”
press optimists vs pessimists
Press: Optimists vs. Pessimists
  • 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)
system losses

36.3 GJ

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

power naps
Power Naps
  • 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)
growth of retail e commerce
Growth of Retail E-commerce
  • 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
will e commerce improve or degrade the environment
Will E-commerce Improve or Degrade the Environment?
  • 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
will e commerce improve or degrade the environment26
Will E-commerce Improve or Degrade the Environment?
  • 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
our prior research
Our Prior Research
  • 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
wired vs wireless electricity w per subscriber
Wired vs. Wireless electricity (W per subscriber)

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

final thoughts
Final Thoughts
  • ‘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