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You are probably aware of Apple’s declaration it intendeds to leave the Environmental assessment EPEAT scheme and its subsequent U-turn on the policy, as a result of the outcry from both existing customers and from local American councils threatening to stop staff using Apple PCs in protest. 

mac forest


But just what exactly does the EPEAT scheme consist of and what does it mean to consumers? The EPEAT scheme covers the environmental recycling of PCs and PC monitors, and the harm they pose to the environment after they have reached end of life.


Equipment which is compliant, must not exceed certain amounts of heavy metals such as mercury or lead. The scheme provides recycling information on hazardous components such as batteries and limits the amount of toxins present in plastics, packaging along with a host of other environmental indicators. The EPEAT scheme is based on the umbrella framework of the IEEE 1680 initiative, which was established in 2006, as a solution to the universal problem of recycling environmental electronic and electrical components.


The program consists of specific required compliance objectives and a subset of optional compliance, whereby a product can either meet or exceed the specification (ultra green). The program even covers the ease of separating parts into their individual components for recycling, something which Apple struggled with in its quest to become ever thinner.


It is easy to understand the challenges vendors face who are already burdened with making products more competitive when they have to consider the impact on the environment at the same time. I must admit when choosing a new PC, I am not looking for a EPEAT certificate as part of my buying decision, and I guess if the media hadn’t picked up the story and the certification was quietly dropped, no one would have been the wiser.

The two biggest polluters in electronic products have traditionally been lead and cadmium. All electronic devices prior to 2006 were filled with lead and the real time clock battery found on most computer motherboards at that time was a rechargeable Nickel Cadmium type. The internal components were connected together with a metal solder which was a mixture of lead and tin.

The European Union Waste and Electrical Equipment Directive (RoHS) prohibited the addition of lead to most consumer products within the EU, and as a result nearly all electronics made today use an alloy consisting of Silver Tin, Zinc and other metals. Cadmium in consumer batteries was also banned at this time; hence the popularity of Lithium Ion and Nickel Metal Hydride replacements.

There is still much work to be done, such as packaging for example. One of the optional components within the standard includes the taking back of packaging. For example, a manufacturer could use the concept of permanent packaging whereby, newly purchased PCs are delivered in reusable packaging, which the consumer either keeps to transport the PC again or returns to the local store for a rebate like a glass coke bottle.


Durable computer packing could be reused by the manufacturer many times over, since many users especially schools and corporations, seldom move computer furniture, and the packaging is only used once to transport the equipment to site without damage. As technology advances, plastics, glass and computer circuitry are becoming increasing durable and scratch resistance. Most high end mobile devices feature Corning Gorilla glass which for all intents and purposes is almost impossible to scratch accidentally.


My two year old HTC phone looks as good as the day I brought it. I am reluctant to upgrade it. At the risk of sounding like tree hugging sandal wearing vegan, I would like to see devices such as smartphones become circuit upgradeable by the consumer or local agent, where the processor and memory and even radio are replaceable much the same way a PC can be upgraded today.

Whether these things become a reality or not remains to be seen. The economic reality is that recycling is expensive, recycled raw materials are inferior in terms of strength and durability in most cases. Only significant cost increases in raw materials such as copper, which has become increasingly expensive, will determine a tipping point where complete recycling is taken seriously by market forces.
By Craig Sutherland

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