Assessing Life-Cycle Impacts
Each year, millions of desktop computer monitors are manufactured and sold worldwide. Monitors that use cathode ray tubes (CRTs) currently dominate the global marketplace, as CRTs provide rich, high-resolution displays well-suited to a range of applications.
Flat panel displays (FPDs) have emerged on the electronics market as a replacement for CRTs in certain applications, primarily because FPDs are lighter, smaller, and more portable, and they consume less energy during operation. One type of FPD, liquid crystal displays (LCDs), are used primarily in notebook computers, but are beginning to move into the desktop market. The potential life-cycle environmental impacts of both CRTs and LCDs have not yet been adequately assessed.
EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program has entered into a voluntary partnership with the electronics industry to evaluate the life-cycle environmental impacts, performance, and cost of CRT and FPD technologies used for desktop computers (LCDs). The project will generate data to assist original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers in the electronics field to incorporate environmental considerations into their decision-making processes and identify areas for improvement.
The primary purpose of the DfE Computer Display Partnership is to evaluate the life-cycle environmental impacts of FPDs and CRTs by combining Cleaner Technologies Substitutes Assessment (CTSA) and life-cycle assessment (LCA) approaches. Developed under the DfE program, CTSAs evaluate and compare substitute processes, products, or technologies, and generate data that allow businesses to make environmentally informed choices. Human and ecological risk, energy and resource use, performance, and costs are evaluated in a CTSA.
LCAs examine the full life cycle of a product, from materials acquisition to manufacturing, use, and disposition. LCAs are comprehensive methods for evaluating the full environmental impacts of a product system.
In this project, these two methodologies will be used to study display technologies that perform standard applications on 15- to 17-inch desktop computer monitors. The technologies that meet this criteria include CRTs and two types of thin-film transistor active-matrix LCDs (twisted nematic and in-plane switching). In addition to evaluating environmental impacts, information on the relative performance and cost of CRT and LCD technologies will be collected from industry and summarized.
These evaluations will provide information to help the electronics industry:
- Consider alternative technologies, materials, and processes that reduce releases of toxic chemicals, conserve resources, and lower risks to human health and the environment.
- Perform an improvement assessment of display technologies
and their components.
- Meet the growing global demands for extended product responsibility.
Project participants include display manufacturers, OEMs, trade groups such as the U.S. Display Consortium (USDC) and Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA), academic and research organizations, such as the University of Tennessee (UT) and the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC), and public interest groups, like the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.
Under a grant from EPA, and with the assistance of MCC, the CTSA/LCA study is being conducted by UT's Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies. UT and other project participants are evaluating the environmental impacts of display technologies throughout their entire life cycle. The team will develop estimates of environmental impacts from the following processes:
- Raw material extraction or acquisition
- Material processing
- Product manufacture
- Product use
- Disposition at end of life
UT and other project participants also will characterize exposure and chemical risk from selected chemicals in one or more life-cycle stages of the displays. This assessment will evaluate impacts on human health and organisms in the environment. The project team will summarize performance and cost information from existing industry data. In addition, the team will assemble as much relevant technical data as possible from existing research. The following studies are possible sources for project team consideration:
- MCC's 1994 Electronics Industry Environmental Roadmap, which
qualitatively identified general environmental issues and
priority needs for reducing impacts from display screens,
but was not quantitative and did not address all display life-cycle
- A University of Michigan case study of the environmental performance
of an active matrix LCD, which includes some preliminary life-cycle
- A New Jersey Institute of Technology life-cycle assessment
for television CRTs.
- 1996 Update to: Research Report on the Visions of the Electronic
Display Industry to the Year 2000, EIAJ (Electronic Industries
Association of Japan).
- Research on personal computers (including displays) conducted
at the NEC Resources and Environment Protection Labs and National
Institute for Resources and Environment.
The results from new studies as well as any analysis generated on existing data will be disseminated to industry OEMs, display manufacturers, and other interested parties.
EPA's Design for the Environment (DfE) Program is a voluntary initiative that forms partnerships with a variety of stakeholder groups in an effort to:
- Encourage businesses to incorporate environmental concerns,
in addition to the traditional criteria of cost and performance,
into their decisions.
- Effect behavior change to facilitate continuous environmental improvement.
To accomplish these goals, the program uses EPA's expertise and leadership to evaluate the human health and environmental risks, performance, and cost of traditional and alternative technologies, materials, and processes. DfE disseminates information on its work to all interested parties and helps businesses implement cleaner technologies identified through the program.
The program has formed cooperative partnerships with the following industries:
- Printed wiring board
- Computer display
- Garment and textile care
- Automotive refinishing
- Industrial/institutional laundry