Creating awareness with Infographics: Producing E-waste

We are enjoying digital services any place, any where , any time but are we aware of the e-waste we are producing and by this the waste of energy and materials (precious metal like gold and copper but also rare earth metals). Are we managing the life cycle of all this electronic devices?

Creating awareness, sending the message around that we must manage the life cycle of these devices properly is still an important job to do.

From GOOD’s excellent library of infographics there is a great infographic showing the mounting electronic waste situation with a powerful subtext on human and environmental destruction.

Lets manage the life cycle of IT infrastructure devices.

E-waste

Datacenter Mining, digging for gold?

Datacenter Mining: The process of reclaiming compounds and elements from products, buildings and waste out of the datacenter arena

Why should we care? Datacenter mining lessens environmental impact, rids landfills of reusable materials, lowers energy costs and conserves natural resources.

We all know that E-waste is serious business and if not proper handled it can cause severe environmental damage and harm to human health. But there is also another side of the E-waste coin. E-waste is also about wasting precious metals and other materials. Proper handling of the e-waste of a data center should be part of the life cycle assessment of your IT infrastructure, this is a technique to assess each and every impact associated with all the stages of a process from cradle-to-grave (i.e., from raw materials through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling).

It is all about Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) are part of the European waste hierarchy, which refers to the 5 steps included in the article 4 of the Waste Framework Directive of the European Union:

  • Prevention – preventing and reducing waste generation.
  • Reuse and preparation for reuse – giving the products a second life before they become waste.
  • Recycle – any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes composting and it does not include incineration.
  • Recovery – some waste incineration based on a political non-scientific formula that upgrades the less inefficient incinerators.
  • Disposal – processes to dispose of waste be it landfilling, incineration, pyrolisis, gasification and other finalist solutions.

How does this Datacenter Mining works? Have a look at this pdf:  Datacenter Mining

Why we need better e-waste recycling

Mount Weld

Mount Weld

According to Electronics Design, Strategy, News we could face material shortages and challenges because of China cutting the exports of rare earth materials by 72% as of July.
The price of rare-earth materials increased on average with 700%. The world’s two largest reserves of Rare Earth materials outside of China are in Mountain Pass, California and Mount Weld, Australia. Neither of these deposits are currently in production. While there are a number of smaller and lower grade deposits of Rare Earth materials around the world, they are yet to be shown to be economically viable and generally not of a size and quality that would result in a significant impact to global supply on an individual basis.

The rare-earth-materials producer, Colorado-based Molycorp Minerals (MountainPass), issued an initial public offering of stock in July, raising $390 million to restart its California mine and ramp up processing to counter world shortages.
Worldwide shortages are now occurring. “The world outside China uses a collective 50,000 tons annually,” says Jim Simms, director of public affairs at Molycorp Minerals. “[China] reduced its exporting in 2010 to about 30,000 tons. Since China supplies about 97% of rare-earth materials, the world has to depend on what China exports.”

Lynas Corp (Mount Weld) a rare-earth-materials supply company in Australia, expects to increase rare earths delivery in 2011 to 11,000 tons per year.

The cutbacks have resulted in shock waves through the electronics industry and could force design changes in the near future. This shortage is just another reason to rethink the life cycle of electronics and to take action on e-waste. For example, Hitachi announced that it has developed a new, more efficient system to recycle the rare earth magnets from discarded technology. The company plans to get 10 percent of its rare-earth needs through recycling when the business begins operating in fiscal 2013, according to spokeswoman Satoko Yasunaga.

E-waste tracking and tracing

United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) starts tracking and tracing of e-waste. According to the EPA website the EPA is taking part in a national task force to address e-waste in addition they are also taking action on an international level:

“Increasing waste from electronics (e-waste) is a significant problem.  To address this problem, President Barack Obama has established a task force to develop a national strategy for responsible electronic stewardship.

  • Over the next six months, the Task Force will develop a national framework for sustainable management of electronics, including an action plan directing Federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities to achieve its goals.
  • This Task Force will build upon and integrate existing programs, such as the Federal Electronics Stewardship Working Group and the Federal Electronics Challenge.
  • The Task Force includes senior-level policy officials from CEQ, EPA, GSA, U.S. Department of State (State), the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC), the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), and other agencies as appropriate

One important objective of this cross-government effort – and of the task force – is to reduce exports of used electronics to developing countries that lack capacity to properly manage them, and assess how we can improve our ability to deter these exports. Our goal is to support capacity building and sharing of best practices so that developing countries, which are facing their own challenges managing used electronics, can improve their ability to safely handle used electronics, while promoting economic development.

In addition to our efforts domestically, to address the e-waste problem internationally, EPA has begun to track e-waste flows, and to promote sustainable recycling efforts in developing countries.

  • EPA recently signed a cooperative agreement with UN University’s Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP) Initiative to begin to gather data on e-waste flows from the US to other countries, and internationally, that can be used by governments, enforcement officials and others to make decisions regarding management of the exports/imports of used electronics.
  • EPA and UN University-StEP are also exploring how to best support Africa as it deals with its e-waste problem. This includes support for developing appropriate regulations and legal infrastructure in developing countries, identifying best management practices, and demonstrating environmentally sound practices that can be shared with the entire region.”

With a current recycling rate for computer products in the US below 20% this is definitely a good step forward.

StEP is an initiative of various UN organizations with the overall aim to solve the e-waste problem. This is done together with prominent members from industry, governments, international organizations, NGOs and the science sector and is using the following 5 guiding principles

  1. StEP’s work is founded on scientific assessments and incorporates a comprehensive view of the social, environmental and economic aspects of e-waste.
  2. StEP conducts research on the entire life-cycle of electronic and electrical equipment and their corresponding global supply, process and material flows.
  3. StEP’s research and pilot projects are meant to contribute to the solution of e-waste problems.
  4. StEP condemns all illegal activities related to e-waste including illegal shipments and reuse/ recycling practices that are harmful to the environment and human health.
  5. StEP seeks to foster safe and eco/energy-efficient reuse and recycling practices around the globe in a socially responsible manner.

StEP works with five Task Forces to get things done:

Policy

The analysis of existing approaches and policies for e-waste in order to issue recommendations for future developments.
Details

ReDesign

Efforts to support the design for better reuse, repair, refurbishment and recycling.
Details

ReUse

The development of a replicable and sustainable global reuse system to minimize environmental impacts.
Details

ReCycle

The enhancement of global recycling infrastructures to realize sustainable e-waste recycling systems.
Details

Capacity Building

The documentation of all results achieved by the Task Forces in order to make them globally accessible and increase awareness.
Details

It looks like e-waste finally is taken seriously.

Rare earths, E-waste and Green IT

Mountain Pass

Mountain Pass (Greg Vojtko/ The Press Enterprise)

The start with having a green datacenter was reducing energy consumption. Then we got the mission of reducing carbon emission and now there is the start of reducing water consumption (see the new sustainability metrics of the Green Grid). The next step will certainly be e-waste. We all know that E-waste is serious business and if not proper handled it can cause severe environmental damage and harm to human health. But there is also another side of the E-waste coin. E-waste is also about wasting rare earth metals.

The use of rare earth elements in IT technology has increased dramatically over the past years. New, advanced battery, magnet and optoelectronics technology is depending on the use of these rare earth metals. Rare earth magnets are small, lightweight, and have high magnetic strength so have become a key part of the miniaturization of electronic products. The key rare earth metals in magnets are neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium. For example neodymium is an important metal for hard disks. Another major use of rare earth oxides is in metal alloys. High performance alloys involving rare earth metals have an important uses in computer memory chips. Rare earth metals (particularly erbium) also act as laser amplifiers in increasingly important fibre optic communication cables. Through the 1950s, South Africa was the world’s rare earth source, using the rare earth metals bearing monazite mineral. From the 1960s until the 1980s, the Mountain Pase mine in California was the leading producer. At the current moment all these resources are dwarfed by the scale of Chinese Bayan Obo mines who are responsible for 45% of global rare earth metal production as you can see in the diagram below.

Rare earth metal production

Rare earth metal production (1 kt=106 kg)

For years, warnings have been sounded regarding an impending shortage of rare earth metals. Rare earths are hard to refine. It is challenging to separate trace elements of minerals from large amounts of ore in an environmentally safe way (rare-earth mining produces radioactive waste). Production costs are high and also bringing new sites in to production is costly. The limited supply of the minerals in the marketplace is mostly the result of economics and environmental concerns, not scarcity. Although a few rare earth minerals actually are rare. So called ‘light rare earth metals’ such as cerium are plentiful, but ‘heavy’ ones such as europium are growing harder to come by (see this article for more background info). This shortage has caused another recently developed source of rare earths, that is E-waste, that have significant rare earth components. New advances in recycling technology have made extraction of rare earths from electronic waste more feasible. In a recent article in the New York Times an example is given of  recycling plant that is currently operating in Japan. “In Kosaka, Dowa Holdings, the company that mined here for over a century, has built a recycling plant whose 200-foot-tall furnace renders old electronics parts into a molten stew from which valuable metals and other minerals can be extracted. The salvaged parts come from around Japan and overseas, including the United States. At Dowa’s plant, computer chips and other vital parts from electronics are hacked into two-centimeter squares. This feedstock then must be smelted in a furnace that reaches 1,400 degrees Celsius before various minerals can be extracted. The factory processes 300 tons of materials a day, and each ton yields only about 150 grams of rare metals.”

This makes you think twice about Green IT and E-waste. Rare earth metals are costly and difficult to produce in an environmentally safe way so there is a limited supply of the minerals in the marketplace and then at end of the life cycle we throw these precious and rare metals away and causing price increase and severe environmental damage in all parts of the world?!

“We have to stop using these elements and then, at the end of their first life, burying them,” said Steven Duclos, chief scientist at General Electric Co’s global research center in the article Rare-earth surge is wake-up call for industrials. “Obviously, as the price goes up, the recycling does begin to make economic sense.”

We had (see the other blogs about E-waste) already found legislative obligations and moral obligations (environment, crime fighting) to do something about E-waste and now we have also financial and economical reasons.What reasons do we want to have more  to take action and have a proper decommissioning of IT components?

Green Moore’s law for IT?

Green Moore's LawE-waste is  serious business, if not proper handled it can cause severe environmental damage and harm to human health. How about the use of toxic chemicals in IT devices will be cut in half every 18 months?

Annie Leonard, famous of the “Story of Stuff” project, hit big with an viral video launched in 2007 that took on our consumer economy made another video. Her latest video project, developed in partnership with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition explore the high-tech revolution’s collateral damage  (25 million tons of e-waste) and suggests developing a “green Moore’s Law” for electronics.

Isn’t it a great idea to define a green IT Moore’s Law as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI), that is cutting in half the use of toxic chemicals in IT devices every 18 months?

U.S. E-waste legislation at last?

It looks like U.S. finally takes e-waste serious. This week, U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced a new bill for e-waste legislation: Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010. The bill is geared toward stopping companies from being able to export electronic waste to developing countries, an action that is creating very dangerous, toxic, poisoned places causing severe environmental damage and harm to human health. See these two photo essays as examples for those infamous waste dumps and waste capitals, one is in Pakistan and the other one is in Ghana.E-waste

Large amounts of U.S. e-waste end up at these unsafe overseas recycling facilities often in violation with the international law. In the US, it is estimated that 50-80 percent of the e-waste collected for recycling is being exported in this way. The U.S. Governmental Accountability Office, said harmful e-waste shipments from the U.S. are “virtually unrestricted” because of minimal enforcement and narrow regulations. This practice is legal because the US has not ratified the Basel Convention (“The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, agreed to in 1989!).

Most other developed nations have laws restricting e-waste exports, Green said. Support for an e-waste export ban is growing, even if the legislation doesn’t pass this year, said Thompson, a California Democrat. The legislation has received support from companies like Apple, Samsung and Dell who even have published this initiative on their web site.

If this legislation passes, IT organizations are forced to take action so they better start thinking of proper E-waste processing.