Environmentalists urge vendors to remove poison from PCs

A Canadian not-for-profit environmental organization is working with similar groups in the U.S. and Mexico on an initiative that will encourage businesses to eliminate or reduce the amount of toxic and hazardous material in electronic equipment.

The Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention (C2P2), which is based in Sarnia, Ont., is a member of the North American Pollution Prevention Partnership (NAP3) and has spent the last 18 months developing the Clean Electronics Pollution Prevention Partnership (CEP3) with other industry, government and non-governmental organizations.

The initiative, which is also supported by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), aims to reduce and/or eliminate the use of lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenly ethers (PBDEs) by companies who manufacture or import electrical and electronic equipment into North America.

The NAP3, which meets together regularly, decided to embark on this project in light of the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive, which comes into effect on July 1st, 2006.

“The HPs of the world are going to respond to the RoHS directive anyway, because they want to be in the European or global market,” said Chris Wolnik, executive director of C2P2. “Some of the smaller computer shops that are making a clone product or pull together models they’re the ones we might be able to target in the long run.”

The NAP3 expects to start implementing the initiative in early 2006.

The RoHS directive originated from the Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) directive, which was introduced by the EU in 1998 after the growing problem of hazardous waste being dumped into landfill sites came to its attention. To comply with the EU RoHS legislation, companies must either remove or reduce the amount of the above materials in products that will be sold within the European Union.

PBBs and PBDEs are forms of Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) that are created by either being chemically bonded onto plastics (PBBs) or mixed with polymers and resins (PBDEs), according to a 2002 report by the National Water Research Institute, which is funded by Environment Canada. The report goes on to cite several studies from the last several decades that show evidence of rising levels of BFRs in the bodies of animals and humans.

To that end, Hewlett-Packard recently announced that it will eliminate the BFR tetrabromobisphenol A from external case parts or housing of all new HP brand products after year-end 2006. To achieve this, HP will make sure its suppliers understand the requirements and implement them.

“This is more like a cherry on the cake,” said Frances Edmonds, director of environmental programs at HP Canada. “We’ve been taking steps to prevent e-waste in third world countries for over 10 years.”

HP has eliminated over 95 per cent of the BFRs used in the housing parts of its products, including PBBs and PBDEs. The BFRs, however, will still be used in circuit boards supplied to HP.

PC rival Dell Computer Inc. also prohibits the use of both BFRs in the manufacturing of its products.

“Our stated goal is to meet the terms of the RoHS directive on a worldwide basis,” said Bryant Hilton, Dell spokesperson. “It makes both good environmental and business sense to manufacture to one standard.”

Both HP and Dell also have policies in place to ensure that waste from their products doesn’t end up in countries where waste disposal procedures aren’t regulated.

While some U.S. states and Canadian provinces like Alberta have legislated end of life regulations for electronic equipment, Wolnik said North America still has a long way to go before it catches up to Europe.

“We’re relying on some of these OEMs to react to Europe and hopefully bring some of their actions here,” he said. “We’re not as far advanced as the WEEE and ROHS directives.”

Wolnik added the CEP3 initiative has faced several roadblocks from the U.S. federal government in part due to heavy lobbying from businesses on the trade department.

“We’re running against roadblock against roadblock,” he said. “They sideline it for a bit and we lose momentum.”

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