So Fresh and So Green Green: The First Panel Discussion Of the Day

panelWe just sat through the first panel discussion of the day titled: Electronic Materials and Life Cycle. On the stage are: David Conrad from Nokia, Andrew Dent of Material ConneXion, Grant Kristofek of Continuum, Jeff Omelchuck from EPEAT and the Green Electronics Council, Renee St. Denis from HP, Douglas Smith of Sony, and the moderator is Jennifer Van Der Meer the chair of o2 New York. The folks on stage discussed the electronic life cycle and the green market as a whole. It started out with a discussion of the life cycle of electronics, from the mining of the metals and other materials used in them, to the design, materials, and the life of the electronic device. Eventually, however, electronic devices should be recycled at the end of their life, to prevent additional mining, and additional trash and pollution. “It’s important to understand what a consumer wants, and intelligently design in sustainability,” Continuum’s Kristofek said. “Perhaps we can begin to create products that last as long as they should. Consumers want choice.” Douglas Smith of Sony added, “When you see a high-definition TV, you want the TV, it’s that much better, it’s beautiful. We can innovate, take old products, turn them into new products.” Of course, the big question is how, but he adds that it’s also in the interest of manufacturers to create sustainable products, because they help support the growth of business. I’m not so sure how much I buy the idea of businesses really wanting sustainable products, because in some respects, that would lessen the amount of products they’d be continually putting on the market. Still, the idea of recycling the plastics of old parts for new products makes sense. Who’s responsibility is it to figure out electronic recycling? The Government’s? “One manufacturer alone isn’t going to solve the problem,” said Denis. “From the consumer, who has the responsibility of owning it. The producers, that are responsible for what happens, and have the ability to turn waste into shinier green gadgets.” She also discusses HP’s inkjet recycling program and the importance of sustainable design. She admits that consumers and producers share responsibility. Last year HP recycled 5 million ink cardtridges through its exchange program. Yet during the question/answer portion of the Panel discussion, she said consumers aren’t educated enough to care enough, and that they need to want to take the first step. “Producer responsibility is attractive to many of us,” EPEAT’s Omelchuck adds. “The challenge with that is it’s not at all clear what the most efficient recycle system is. Having to deal with collective end-of-life treatment, and making the products designed for better end-of-life recovery. Producer responsibility is a tool, a strategy, to try to reduce end of life impacts, but it’s not necessarily the goal.” “Producer responsibility means being responsible for what you produce,” Smith adds. “It’s not just take back and recycling, it’s the design, operations, energy consumption during the lifespan of that product. There’s difficulty with collections,” but Sony, like HP, is working on providing locations for dropping off old products. The trouble, is that there are regulations for where products can be dropped off. “I’d love for every school to be a drop-off spot,” Denis says, “but it would be illegal.” “We need to educate the community, and find ways that we can use in existing logistics instead of creating new logistics that create more waste,” Conrad of Nokia said. “In Europe, the recovery rates of electronic products is around 30-percent,” according to Omelchuck. “We don’t have the infrastructure to do a lot of this. We as a society have to figure this all out.”

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