Promoting and Practicing Environmental Stewardship for Electronic Products
Our "plugged-in" world relies on an ever-growing and constantly changing supply of electronic products. The rapid introduction of new electronic products shows no sign of abating, as better, smaller, and cheaper products replace "older" models. Electronic products may contain a variety of toxic constituents. For example, computer monitors, televisions, and circuit boards often include substances of concern such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. These substances have been included in the products for performance characteristics, but can cause problems if the products are not properly managed at end of life.
This growing, changing product stream presents new challenges and responsibilities in designing and managing electronic products to reduce their life cycle environmental impacts. By applying the principles of product stewardship, electronic equipment can be made with fewer toxic constituents and designed with upgradability, durability, and recyclability in mind, making these product systems more sustainable.
Overall, EPA's goal is to promote greater electronics product stewardship. Product stewardship means that all who make, distribute, use, and dispose of products share responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of those products. At EPA, our electronics work is anchored by three goals to reduce the environmental impacts of electronic products:
- Foster environmentally conscious design and manufacturing
- Increase purchasing and use of more environmentally sustainable electronics
- Increase safe, environmentally sound reuse and recycling of used electronics
To promote these goals, EPA is engaged in several programs including:
- Design for the Environment Program works with electronics manufacturers to incorporate environmental considerations into product design.
- Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a tool designed to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, laptops and monitors based on their environmental attributes with qualified product designations of bronze, silver, or gold.
- Energy Star Program promotes energy-efficient products through its labeling and education program.
- Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC) is a partnership program that encourages federal facilities and agencies to: purchase greener electronic products; reduce impacts of electronic products during use; and manage obsolete electronics in an environmentally responsible manner.
- WasteWise Program challenges its partners to set goals for reducing electronics and other wastes.
- SMM Electronics Challenge One way EPA is addressing this growing number of discarded electronics is through the Sustainable Materials Management Electronics Challenge. By participating in the Challenge, original equipment manufacturers and retailers are promoting responsible electronics recycling. They are increasing the number of electronics being collected, sending 100 percent of their used electronics to a recognized third-party certified recycler by the third year of their participation, and publicly reporting this information.