When investigators reported last year on how new PCs were failing to meet their stated sustainability credentials, a reoccurring problem emerged: e-plastics weren’t being labeled correctly.
That’s one takeaway from a series of Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) verification reports issued for 2016. EPEAT is a program of the Portland, Ore.-based Green Electronics Council. Often used by environmentally minded organizations as a purchasing criteria, EPEAT includes criteria for designing electronics to improve their reusability and recyclability, among other aspects of sustainability.
The Green Electronics Council selects products and EPEAT criteria at random and instructs outside parties called “conformity assurance bodies” to verify that the products meet the selected criteria as declared. Some of the criteria are required to meet the minimum EPEAT level, bronze, and others are optional, allowing manufacturers to qualify for silver- or gold-level certifications.
Green Electronics Council recently released the last of four reports for 2016 investigations focused on personal computers, displays and tablets. In the U.S., 1,848 of these devices are currently EPEAT certified.
Last year, a total of 285 investigations were initiated. Of those, 70 percent showed that the products met the criteria they claimed to meet and 27 percent were out of compliance (3 percent were cancelled or inconclusive).
Of those 76 nonconforming cases, issues related to e-plastics cropped up 33 times. In those e-plastics instances, 24 devices failed to meet the “marking of plastics” criterion, five failed to back up their renewable/biobased plastics assertions, three failed to support claims about eliminating flame retardants or plasticizers and one failed to back up its claim that large plastic components were free of PVC.
The EPEAT “marking of plastics” criterion requires electronics manufacturers to use specific symbols and terms to identify basic polymers and their special characteristics, fillers and reinforcing materials, plasticizers and flame retardants in plastic components that are greater than 25 grams. Such information can help e-scrap companies or their downstream plastics reclaimers with separating and processing the material.
A host of other areas relevant to end-of-life recycling were also examined.
Investigators in 2016 looked at the following criteria related to recycling:
- Ease of disassembly of external enclosures: 6 were conforming, 1 was nonconforming
- Identification and removal of components containing hazardous materials: 4 conforming, 1 nonconforming
- Molded/glued in metal eliminated or removable: 4 conforming, 1 nonconforming
- Manual separation of plastics: 2 conforming
- Reduced number of plastic material types: 2 conforming
- Elimination of paints or coatings that are not compatible with recycling or reuse: 1 conforming
- Identification of materials with special handling needs: 1 conforming
In addition, EPEAT requires that at least 65 percent of a device be reusable and/or recyclable. This calculation must include the external power cords, power adapters and input cables. One device was tested to see if it complied with this requirement, and it was.
EPEAT also gives manufacturers the option to claim that at least 90 percent of their devices are reusable and/or recyclable. Of the 44 devices that were tested for compliance with this criterion, 32 were conforming and 12 were not.
Additionally, EPEAT has criteria aimed at extending the life of used electronics by easing their repair and refurbishment. In some of those areas, investigators found the following:
- Modular design: 10 conforming
- Upgradable with common tools: 3 conforming
- Availability of replacement parts: 1 conforming