Government Regulations

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Over the years, the U.S. Congress has passed several environmental laws that affect the products used in the computer industry. Most are not targeted specifically at the computer industry, such as the Clean Air Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, but they do affect how products (including computers) are manufactured and disposed of at end of life. In recent years, an increasing number of state and local regulations have affected the disposal of computer equipment, specifically the banning of CRT displays from landfills in many localities.

An example of a state on the leading edge of this issue is California, where the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 limits the amount of cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury in displays used with electronic equipment to 0.1% or less. The act also requires retailers to collect an Electronic Waste Recycling Fee from consumers that is paid to the state for distribution to organizations that collect and recycle electronic waste. The act also encourages state agencies to purchase environmentally friendly electronic equipment. There are stiff penalties for not complying with the Act - retailers who sell electronic devices covered by the act and do not pay the recycling fee are liable in civil court for up to $5,000 per offense, and manufacturers that do not comply face fines of up to $25,000.

In the European Union (EU), the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive places restrictions on the use of many of the chemicals that are found in electronic equipment. It also requires producers to take back and recycle the electronic equipment, including computers that they sell in the EU. This gives manufacturers a huge incentive to design and build products that are easier to recycle.

IT'S GOOD TO BE GREEN

In response to pressures from government regulations and from customers, all major computer equipment manufacturers have developed programs to address the environmental issues surrounding the manufacture, use, and disposal of their products. These programs range from changing manufacturing processes so that fewer toxic materials are used to consumer takeback programs that allow customers to return end-of-life products to the manufacturer for remanufacturing or proper recycling. This has created a virtuous circle, as requirements for taking back the equipment have caused manufacturers to make their products easier to recycle. This, in turn, encourages consumers to recycle old equipment and purchase new devices. Manufacturers have also found that many "green" processes can also save them money, as they improve their manufacturing processes to meet green objectives. This chapter looks at some of the green programs from various manufacturers and how they benefit the environment, the consumer, and manufacturers themselves.

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