Environmental Regulatory Roadmap: A Recent History And A Look Forward
Authors: Jacklin Adams, George Galyon, Ph.D., and LH Chew PM Company: IBM Corporation Date Published: 7/29/2010
Abstract: Before the 1990s environmental laws restricting materials usages were regional in nature focusing on nuclear waste disposal, toxic material usages and emissions, workplace safety, lead elimination in paints and gasoline, and oil spill regulation. Before about 1994, IBM restricted or eliminated usage of chlorinated solvents, volatile organic compounds, certain lithium batteries, health risk chemicals, and hexavalent chromium processing. In the 1980s the proliferation of consumer electronic hardware raised concerns about product disposal practices and the related environmental impact. The United States Environmental Protection Agency focused on regulations to allow the safe usage of materials with environmental issues such as hexavalent chromium. The European Union initiated a different tactic and in 2002 adopted the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive designed to promote recycling of electronic products, and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive designed to restrict usage of six materials (cadmium, lead, hexavalent chromium, mercury, Polybrominated Biphenyls, and Polybrominated Diphenyl ethers) used in electronic hardware such as batteries, light bulbs, telecommunication switches, cell phones, and computers. WEEE Directive required that providers of electronic hardware must “take- back” and recycle their products from household consumers free of charge, including “historical” wastes, which were sold before the Directive’s implementation. Manufacturers were also required to recycle products returned from business customers free of charge, but only for products sold after the implementation of the Directive. Various local jurisdictions around the world have followed the WEEE lead and established their own product take back and recycling requirements. The future will likely bring increased regulations and material usage bans. One of the most significant challenges will be the consideration by the EU of bans on additional halogenated compounds such as PVC and the various brominated fire retardants that are currently in widespread usage. Mining operations may also come under increasing scrutiny due to social and environmental concerns associated with these operations in different parts of the world. Electronic hardware manufacturers using metals from these operations will undoubtedly see increased pressure to exert pressure on their supply chains to identify and control the sources of metals used in electronic hardware products. Increased electric car production will put demand pressure on certain commodities already critical to the electronics industry such as lithium (for batteries), and the rare earth metals (motor magnets, fiber optics, lasers). New mining operations will have to be brought on line and alternative materials will have to be developed. In the following article we explore in more detail some of the above items.