GADGET GROWTH FUELS ECO CONCERNS
GADGET GROWTH FUELS ECO CONCERNS
2005-02-16 at 10:34:00 am #10291Gadget growth fuels eco concerns
Technology firms and gadget lovers are being urged to think
more about the environment when buying and disposing of the latest hi-tech
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, several
hi-tech firms were recognised for their strategies to help the environment.
Ebay also announced the Rethink project, bringing together Intel, Apple, and
IBM among others to promote recycling.
The US consumer electronics market is set to grow by over 11% in 2005.
But more awareness was needed about how and where old gadgets could be
recycled, as well as how to be more energy efficient, said the US Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA).
Of particular concern is how much energy it takes to recharge portable
devices, one of the fastest-growing markets in technology.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) has predicted that shipments of
consumer technologies in 2005 will reach more than $125.73bn (nearly £68bn).
Ebay’s initiative pulls together major technology firms, environment groups,
government agencies and eBay users to give information about what to do with old
computers and where to send them.
The online auction house thinks that its already established community of
loyal users could be influential.
“We really became aware of the e-waste issue and we saw that our 125 million
users can be a powerful force for good,” eBay’s David Stern told the BBC News
HAZARDOUS WASTE1: Lead in cathode ray tube and solder2: Arsenic in older cathode ray tubes5: Antimony trioxide as flame retardant4: Polybrominated flame retardants in plastic casings,
cables and circuit boards3: Selenium in circuit boards as power supply rectifier
6: Cadmium in circuit boards and semiconductors7: Chromium in steel as corrosion protection8: Cobalt in steel for structure and magnetivity9: Mercury in switches and housing
“We saw the opportunity to meet the additional demand we have on
the site for used computers and saw the opportunity, too, to do some good for
But it is not just computers that cause a problem for the environment.
Teenagers get a new mobile every 11 months, adults every 18 months and 15
million handsets are replaced in total each year. Yet, only 15% are actually
This year, a predicted two billion people worldwide will own a mobile,
according to a Deloitte report.
Schemes in the US, like RIPMobile, could help in targeting younger
generations with recycling messages.
The initiative, which was also launched at CES, rewards 10 to 28-year-olds
for returning unused phones.
“This system allows for the transformation of a drawer full of unused mobile
phones into anything from music to clothes to electronics or games,” said Seth
Heine, from RIPMobile.
Get them young
One group of students collected 1,000 mobiles for recycling in just three
Mr Heine told the BBC News website that what was important was to raise
awareness amongst the young so that recycling becomes “learned behaviour”.
Europe is undoubtedly more advanced than the US in terms of recycling
awareness and robust “end of life” programmes, although there is a tide change
happening in the rest of the world, too.
Intel showcased some of its motherboards and chips at CES which are entirely
“There is more and more awareness on the consumer side, but the
whole industry is moving towards being lead free,” Intel’s Allen Wilson told the
BBC News website.
“There is still low-level awareness right now, but it is on the rise – the
highest level of awareness is in Europe.”
A European Union (EU) directive, WEEE (Waste Electronic and Electrical
Equipment), comes into effect in August.
It puts the responsibility on electrical manufacturers to recycle items that
are returned to them.
But developments are also being made to design better technologies which are
more energy efficient and which do not contain harmful substances.
Elements like chromium, lead, and cadmium – common in consumer electronics
goods – will be prohibited in all products in the EU by 2006.
The predicted huge growth in the gadget market means the amount of energy
used to power them up is on the rise, too.
The biggest culprits, according to the EPA, are the innocuous power adaptors,
nicknamed “energy vampires”.
They provide vital “juice” for billions of mobile phones, PDAs (personal
digital assistants), digital cameras, camcorders, and digital music players.
Although there is a focus on developing efficient and improved
circuits in the devices themselves, the technologies inside rechargers are still
outdated and so eat up more energy than is needed to power a gadget.
On 1 January, new efficiency standards for external power supplies came into
effect as part of the European Commission Code of Conduct.
But at CES, the EPA also unveiled new guidelines for its latest Energy Star
initiative which targets external power adapters.
These map out the framework for developing better adaptors that can be
labelled with an Energy Star logo, meaning they are about 35% more efficient.
The initiative is a global effort and more manufacturers’ adaptors are being
brought on board.
Most are made in China. About two billion are shipped around the world every
year, and about three billion are in use in the US alone.
The EPA is already working with several companies which make more than 22% of
power supplies on the market.
“We are increasingly finding companies that not only want to provide neat,
hi-tech devices, but also bundle with it a hi-tech, efficient power supply,” the
EPA’s Andrew Fanara said.
Initiatives like this are critical. If power adaptors continue to be made and
used as they are now, consumer electronics and other small appliances will be
responsible for more than 40% of the electricity used in US homes, said the EPA.