Technological advances in all electronic equipment, particularly computers,
continually shorten their useful life, resulting in a complex and rapidly
growing waste stream. Computers, televisions, lab analyzers, EKG monitors
and other types of biomedical equipment contain many hazardous constituents from
lead in cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors, chlorinated plastics in cable wiring,
brominated flame retardants in circuit boards to mercury in LCD displays.
CRTs alone contribute almost one third of the lead found in the municipal
waste stream. Improper management or disposal of electronic equipment poses
a significant threat to public health and the environment. Veterinary facilities
need to manage their electronic equipment in a way that controls costs, protects
data and complies with federal, state and local regulations.
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing
Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) is the practice of purchasing
products or services that have reduced negative effects on human health and
the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve
the same purpose. Purchasing environmentally preferable products involves
the evaluation of environmental attributes of products along with the traditional
criteria of price, performance and availability.
The complexities of computer products and the uncertainty regarding the
environmentally preferable attributes of electronic equipment have been obstacles
for implementing EPP programs for electronics. Various
programs and resources are available to help:
- The Northwest Product Stewardship Council's A
Guide to Environmentally Preferable Computer Purchasing covers EEP,
end of life management, packaging and shipping, toxic materials and other
design and manufacturing issues. The Northwest Product Stewardship Council
is a group of government organizations that works with businesses and
nonprofit groups to integrate product stewardship principles into the
policy and economic structures of the Pacific Northwest.
- Practice Greenhealth's Healthier
Choices for Electronic Equipment: From Procurement to End-of-Life is
a Ten Step Guide that covers procurement (take-back requirements),
Universal Waste implications, HIPPA considerations, end-of life options,
recycling, recordkeeping and education.
E-cycling is the practice of reusing, or distributing for reuse, electronic
equipment and components rather than discarding them at the end of their
life cycle. In the vast majority of cases, discarded computers and other
electronic devices, such as cell phones, are functional and could be passed
on to another individual or organization. Often, even non-functioning devices
can be refurbished and resold or donated.
Electronics recycling is a growing industry; EPA estimates it will grow
18 percent annually between 1998 and 2007. This growth will be from new business
entry and increased handling volume from large facilities. Estimates indicate
that over 40 million units of electronic equipment will be recycled in 2007,
with notebook PCs and desktop CPUs experiencing significant growth in recovery.
Currently, 75 percent of the equipment being recycled comes from electronics
manufacturers and large organizations (>500 employees). This equipment
is being recycled by a small group of companies due to the large capital
investment, significant infrastructure, and established relationships required.
In the United States, the top 5 firms recycle more equipment than all the
other companies combined. In addition, electronics recyclers are geographically
concentrated; half of all electronics recycling firms are in the Mid-Atlantic
and Midwest regions of the United States. Only a small amount of electronics
is being recovered from households.
Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) in color computer monitors and televisions are
considered hazardous when discarded because of the presence of lead in the
CRT. Although the lead is probably not an environmental problem when the
monitor or television is intact, the lead might leach out under conditions
typical of municipal landfills. State regulatory requirements applicable
to handling these materials vary.
Some states include CRTs on their lists of universal waste. (Go to Universal Waste State Resources Locator.)
States have taken a variety of approaches toward CRT management. Some states,
such as Massachusetts and Florida, have taken steps to streamline hazardous
waste regulations for CRTs, resulting in higher levels of recycling. On the
other hand, California considers CRTs to be spent materials and regulates
all CRT as hazardous waste, i.e. they are banned from landfills. Many states
are currently developing Universal Waste exemptions for CRT. Minnesota, in
particular, considers CRTs to be electric lamps, which are already part of
that state's Universal Waste Rule. New York utilizes its scrap metal exemption
for whole intact CRTs that will be recycled.
Earth911.com. Earth911.com is a privately owned, for-profit company that specializes in providing consumers with accessible and actionable recycling information across the country. Their Recycling Directory contains information for recycling over 240 different products.
Disposal of Electronics Containing Sensitive Information. Health care companies that have sensitive patient or consumer information on computers, or in other stored electronic media, must take all the necessary steps to insure safeguarding that information and maintaining public trust.