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 Going Green

Before the European Union began the RoHS directive, electronics manufacturers concerned themselves with having the most powerful, fastest, coolest new device without much regard to the environment. Now there's a push in the industry for companies to be "green", and major corporations and the government are taking steps to reduce hazardous waste and save energy. According to USA today, companies like Dell, Panasonic, and Motorola are beefing up their recycling programs and producing more eco-friendly products. The government is pushing for more environmental regulations to reduce hazardous waste too, but it's a struggle to get everyone on the same page.

Harmonizing Requirements
Although most people agree waste should be managed properly, the debate over how that's done and who pays the bill has blocked efforts to implement a national plan for recycling electronics. The industry is now facing a patchwork of international and state laws. Disparate requirements can lead to uncertainties, inefficiencies and high compliance costs for companies. Allenby said in an interview with IEEE-USA Today's Engineer Online that its a good idea for the United States, Europe and large producers like China, Korea, Taiwan harmonize their requirements…otherwise you have the potential for trade barriers that are unhelpful to either consumers or manufacturers.

New Incentives
According to the National Association of Government Contractors, "Pending legislation may require government agencies to award five percent of contract dollars to 'green' businesses." CNN says that some countries are considering punitive fines for companies who do not meet certain standards. "States are experimenting with a variety of financing systems from an advanced recovery fee (ARF) paid by the consumer at the time of purchase to producer responsibility in which manufacturers of televisions and computer monitors are responsible for paying for the recycling," says Barton Reppert of Today's Engineer. A bill sponsored by Senators. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.) would provide an $8 tax incentive to companies that recycle electronic devices and $15 to consumers for turning in a TV or computer.

There are also efforts to get consumers to be environmentally friendly by purchasing green products and recycling more. Numerous EIA member companies have created and are participating in programs designed to assist consumers in recycling used electronics products. The EPA's website at is full of useful links regarding donating and recycling programs.

No Easy Task
Being green is not easy. Michelle Kessler of USA Today says electronics recyclers often spend more on labor than they earn reselling materials. Traditionally, designers have been trained to think of how a product will be used in its lifetime - not what happens to it when it dies. For some applications, it is difficult to use anything but hazardous materials - "Companies use (hazardous) chemicals for a reason," says Craig Hershberg, director of environmental affairs for Toshiba. "There are few good, affordable ways to make the light source behind most laptop screens and flat-panel TVs without mercury, for example."

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