It Technology

It Technology 1.0 INTRODUCTION A quote from a PC World magazine on “The Digital Future” said, “in the future, people will live twice as long, computers will die twice as fast” 1. As computer technology continues to accelerate at an unprecedented rate, information technology (IT) equipment waste is becoming an increasingly significant portion of the solid waste stream. Information Technology equipment waste is receiving increased attention for the following reasons: Rapid advances in technology result in IT equipment becoming obsolete at an increasingly rapid pace. This is resulting in an increase in the rate and quantity of IT equipment entering the waste stream; A piece of IT equipment was, or is typically of high value, both in terms of its component parts and the equipment itself; IT equipment commonly contains toxic materials, which are hazardous if not managed properly. This project provides a broad overview of how such products are handled and to estimate the amounts of these products and materials that will enter the waste stream in the next few years. The specific waste streams addressed include: personal computers, monitors, laptop computers, peripherals (e.g., printers, scanners), 2.0 WASTE ESTIMATES FOR IT EQUIPMENT This section will address the generation and flow of computer equipment waste from both residential and IC&I sources in Canada.

The types of computer equipment addressed in this project and discussed in this section include: – Computers (personal computers, servers); – Monitors; – Laptop computers; – Printers; – Note-pads/note-books, and; – Peripherals (scanners, modems, keyboards etc.). The flow of computer equipment in the solid waste stream will require increasing attention in the future for the following reasons: – The decreasing lifespan of IT products and their increasing annual sales, resulting in greater discards of computer equipment waste on an annual basis; – The mixed composition of computer equipment (i.e., metals, plastics, glass), which makes dismantling and recycling challenging; – The presence of hazardous materials; and, – The life cycle ecological burden represented by waste IT equipment. Computer equipment can become obsolete as a result of technological advancements, for example: – Increasing micro processing speed – from 80386 to 80486 to Pentium I, II and now III generation systems; – Increasing memory capacity to support faster microprocessors and expanded storage requirements; – Internet developments that cannot be accessed using older systems; – New and expanding operating systems and software that cannot run on older systems; – Advancements in color, resolution and technology for monitors (i.e., flat panel monitors); – Increasing speed and color performance for laser and ink-jet printers, and – Merging technologies such as “all-in-one” equipment, with faxing, printing and scanning capabilities provided in one unit. These factors have reduced both the average first life and total lifespan of computer equipment – where first life refers to the amount of time a product is useful to its original owner and total lifespan is the period from manufacture to disposal 2. Computer equipment sales are projected to continue to grow as a result of decreasing lifespan and the increased use of computers in businesses, institutions and at home. The largest growth in computer sales is into the residential market. In 1998 there were 1.9 million computers installed in Canadian homes and in 2000, there were 2.2 million – an increase of 16%.

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In the education sector, installed computers increased by 9% in 1999, to 1.4 million. Installed computers in the business sector increased from 6.2 million in 1999 to 7.0 million in 2000 – an increase of 13% 3. Figure 2-1 presents a simplified schematic of the lifespan of computer equipment from point of sale, through use, to end of first life, to diversion (reuse and recycling) and to disposal. 3.0 IT Waste Generation Each year millions of new computers, monitors, laptops and peripherals are sold into the Canadian marketplace. Some of these sales represent ‘new’ customers(Businesses, Institutions, Homes, Government offices) who are purchasing computer equipment for the first time, while the majority are those that are replacing old or out dated equipment found in residential, commercial and institutional settings.

The obsolete equipment is typically 3-5 years old 4 and, while often still usable (i.e., not broken), it no longer meets the needs of the user. The point at which a computer becomes obsolete is also referred to as the end of the equipment’s first life. Obsolete computer equipment will be directed to one of four destinations/outlets: 1) Storage, 2) Reuse, 3) Recycling, 4) Disposal. (as shown in figure below) Storage: In many instances, discarded computer equipment is placed in storage. For residential computers this may mean storage in basements, or for business computers this may mean placement in storage or warehousing areas. In many cases IT equipment is stored largely because the owner hopes that the out-dated equipment has some potential resale value, or that they may use it in the future.

In other cases, equipment is stored simply because people do not know what to do with it and are resistant to throwing out a piece of equipment that may have cost them thousands of dollars a few years ago. Accurate quantification of the number of computers being stored is not available, but estimates range from 45% to 50% of obsolete computers 5. Eventually, stored computers will end up being disposed. Reuse: End of first-life computer equipment typically goes to one of two reuse applications: 1) resold as used equipment, or 2) donated to a charity organization. Retail outlets, both traditional and Internet-based are increasingly becoming avenues for the sale of used computer equipment.

IT manufacturers are also getting into the business of selling used equipment. Used IT equipment that retains some useful value will likely be resold into the secondary computer market under the following scenarios: – When businesses sell or auction IT equipment into the secondary market for resale through retail outlets as used computers or for computer parts and components (e.g., hard drives, motors/fans, CPU’s etc.), and – End-of-lease IT equipment that is returned to the leasing company at the end of a two or three year lease is typically sold or auctioned by the leasing company to secondary computer companies and brokers. A smaller percentage of used business IT equipment is often sold to employees for personal use. With the rapid development of computer technology, this option is diminishing. Computer equipment and dismantled components can be reused and resold through a variety of outlets, including: – Cascading or informal distribution of a computer within a company or within a family; – Through private resale companies that purchase used equipment in order to refurbish and resell computer equipment for a profit in local or foreign markets; – The sale of component parts that have been dismantled by primary recyclers; – The redistribution of donated equipment (nationally or internationally) through nonprofit organizations, sometimes in partnership with other companies that can refurbish equipment. Recycling: The recycling infrastructure for computer equipment includes a mix of primary and secondary recyclers and metal smelting facilities. Typically, primary recyclers refurbish equipment for resale where possible and dismantle and sort the remaining equipment into component parts, such as circuit boards, CRT’s (cathode ray tubes), plastic housing and wires.

Sorted materials are then sold to secondary recyclers or smelters for further processing, or are sent to disposal outlets. Primary recyclers rely mainly on manual labor for refurbishing and dismantling, although some mechanical and automated systems are now available. Secondary recyclers process metals, plastics and glass contained in the IT equipment to recover raw materials. These recyclers generally use highly automated processing equipment, requiring minimal manual disassembly. Electronic and computer waste can also be processed at smelting facilities to recover precious metals. The pyrometallurgical process utilized at a smelting facility involves the melting and fusing of ores to separate metallic constituents, such as lead or copper.

Smelters can also use the leaded glass contained in CRTs as a fluxing agent in the production of pure lead 7. Noranda’s Horne facility in northwestern Quebec is the largest North American copper and precious metal smelter 6. CRTs require special processing because they can contain from 0.7 to 2.7 kg of lead depending on the monitor size and year of manufacture. Monitors that can not be refurbished can be recycled into new CRTs or used as fluxing agents by a secondary lead smelter. To reuse an old CRT in the manufacture of a new CRT, the face glass is separated from the neck and funnel glass and the frit bonding compound by sawing the CRT at the frit bonding compound. If the CRT glass is to be used as a fluxing agent it does not require separation.

The glass can be recovered in this process as well 7. Disposal: IT equipment as a whole or as its dismantled component parts can be disposed in landfills or incinerators. At this time, there is limited information available on the percentage of the waste stream that is made up of IT equipment. A 1999 waste composition study in the City of Calgary found that electronic equipment (including computers, radios, televisions etc.) comprised 1.2% of the residential waste stream or 3,000 tons per year 8. This is comparable to US solid waste data that shows that electronic waste comprises 1-2% of the solid waste stream 9. Equivalent information is not available for IC&I waste at this time but could form the focus of future studies.

The projected trend of estimated quantities of Information technology waste disposed from 1999 to 2005 is given below : Projections for the flow of IT equipment and storage patterns can be further refined as more recovery information becomes available regarding quantities of computer equipment that are reused and recycled in Canada. The waste flow estimates for various pieces of computer equipment are presented in the following tables: – Table 2-2 – Personal Computers – Table 2-3 – Monitors – Table 2-4 – Laptop Computers – Table 2-5 – Peripherals Based on the Waste Flow Tool, it is estimated that in 2000, approximately 33,972 tons of IT equipment waste (including PCs monitors, laptops and peripherals) was disposed, 15,592 tons was recycled, 24,507 tons was sent for reuse and 6,128 was put into storage. Some pieces of IT equipment which had been stored or reused in previous years entered the waste stream in 2000. Of the IT waste disposed, PCs and servers accounted for an estimated 10,833 tons, monitors accounted for an estimated 10,688 tons, peripherals (scanners, printers, etc) accounted for about 11,474 tons and laptops accounted for about 977 tons. In 2005, the Waste Flow Tools predict that approximately 67,324 tons of IT equipment waste (including PCs monitors, laptops and peripherals, but excluding mainframes and other large equipment) will be disposed, 47,791 tons will be reused, 11,948 tons will be stored and 43,428 tons will be recycled. Of the total IT waste that will be disposed, PCs and servers will account for an estimated 23,349 tons, monitors will account for an estimated 24,472 tons, peripherals (scanners, printers, etc) will account for about 17,396 tons and laptops will account for about 2,107 tons. Note: The quantities disposed, recycled, stored and reused do not add to the amount of IT equipment that became obsolete in 2000 because a portion of IT equipment from storage and reuse from earlier years enters the IT equipment waste flow in 2000.

4.0 Materials Contained in IT Equipment The challenge encountered in diverting computers and peripherals from the waste stream through recycling and refurbishing activity result from the diversity of products and variety of materials contained in each product. For example, each hard drive contains a range of metals and plastics that can be difficult to separate. It is also difficult to identify the different plastics contained in each piece of equipment by resin type. The composition of personal computers and monitors are given in the Table 2 – 7 and the chart below: Precious metals include nickel, manganese, cobalt, barium, tin, silver, antimony, chromium, cadmium, selenium, mercury, gold and arsenic. Many of the materials contained in IT equipment can be potentially hazardous if improperly managed.

For example, printed circuit boards contain heavy metals such as antimony, silver, chromium, zinc, lead, tin and copper and a CRT in a computer monitor can contain from 0.7 to 2.7 kg of lead depending on the monitor’s size and year of manufacture 10. The production of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, disk drives and monitors use a number of hazardous materials 11. The lead oxide used in the cathode ray tubes (CRT) of computer monitors is of particular concern and it has been estimated that computer monitors represent approximately 15% of the lead found in the municipal waste stream 12. Hazardous materials found in obsolete computer equipment can be released to the environment through the following pathways: – Incineration of computer equipment concentrates heavy metals in ash residue; – Landfill disposal of computer equipment, and; – Recycling and recovery of computer equipment waste. The estimated quantities of materials contained in disposed PC’s and monitors in Canada in 1999 and in 2005 are shown in table and chart below: The hazardous materials contained in computer equipment that are of greatest concern are summarized below.

Lead Lead is found in the CRT, in the soldering of printed circuit boards and in other components of IT equipment. Lead represents approximately 6.3%, by weight of an average PC 13. Based on the total number of obsolete PC’s and monitors in Canada in 2000, this translates to about 1,356 tons of lead disposed in 2000. Based on the prediction that 47,821 tons of PCs and monitors will be disposed in 2005 and assuming that the average composition of this equipment will not change significantly by that year, 3,012 tons of lead will be disposed with this stream in 2005. A CRT in a computer monitor can contain from 0.7 to 2.7 kg of lead depending on the monitors size and year of manufacture.

This lead is contained in various components of the CRT, including: 14 The glass funnel, which is glass that is 22-25% lead (bound into the glass). Lead is used in the funnel to shield users from radiation produced by the electron gun. The faceplate, which contains 2-3% lead bound into the glass. The frit (a glass solder that joins the faceplate and funnel components of the CRT), which contains 15 to 100 grams per CRT. The lead contained in the frit is of greater concern …


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