Manufacturer Programs

ALL PRODUCTS go through a life cycle that starts with an idea and ends when the product is no longer useful or wanted. Many factors considered and decisions made along this path from idea to the end of product life affect the impact of the product on the environment. In this chapter, we look at how manufacturers are making changes to how they design and build their products, and increasing the available options for disposing of end-of-life (EOL) computer equipment in an environmentally friendly way.

All electronics eventually become obsolete and are no longer wanted by the original owner. According to a 2007 U.S. EPA report, about 1.3 million tons of computer equipment (desktops, laptops, printers, keyboards, etc.) reached their end of life in 2005. Of that, only about 17 percent was recycled.

The term "recycle" is defined by as "to treat or process (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse." We normally think of recycling as taking a product back to its raw material form and then using the reclaimed raw material to make a new product (such as the recycling of paper). However, when many people apply the term recycling to computer equipment, it can also mean giving the equipment to others who can use it (such as donating it to a school or charity) or reusing still functional parts to make a new system (technically remanufacturing). All of these options are preferable to dumping the equipment into a landfill, but this chapter focuses on how design affects the feasibility of breaking down equipment so that the raw materials can be recovered.

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