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FULL OF SCRAP It’s time for Epeat to swing the e-bat


The custodian of the e-cycling ratings regimen must deal with two challenges in its second year rigor and scope

Paul Schaffer
Paul Schaffer
If voluntary electronics recycling ever catches up with technology equipment as a pervasive feature in the United States, some of the credit will go to the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (Epeat).

Epeat's role is to keep score on how successful manufacturers are at reducing or eliminating hazardous substances, at making recycling easy and at saving energy. President Bush issued an executive order earlier this year discouraging federal agencies from buying unrated computer equipment within Epeat's scope desktop, notebook, monitor or integrated unit.

Epeat's frequently expanded ratings list reached its first anniversary July 19 with around 600 models on its roster. But there's no time to celebrate. The custodian of the project, Green Electronics Council, Portland, Ore., must deal with two challenges in its second year rigor and scope.

A verification program, to see whether producers' claims to have met standards are true, was scheduled to complete its first round in July. Three verification cycles per year are envisioned for a shifting sample of equipment types and manufacturers. The first cycle is expected to lead to some deletions from the roster. The identities of re-graded or flunked models won't be publicized this time, but in the second round and beyond the rejected claims and the names of the companies will be made public.

The other challenge facing Epeat is whether to broaden its scope. A proposal on the table calls for the development of criteria for rating printers and televisions.

A three-year, $375,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency serves as seed money, but Epeat's agenda is to become self-supporting on the basis of fees from the manufacturers it rates. To be listed on the roster entails a set of minimum requirements. How a model scores on optional criteria gives it a rating of bronze, silver or gold.

Nobody scored gold until June 4, when a Hewlett-Packard Co. desktop made it across the hurdle. Dell Inc. quickly followed with two desktops and a notebook.

Most of the listed models (90 percent) are listed as being easy to separate different types of plastics when the equipment is discarded. Keeping the mercury in light sources below a mildly ambitious threshold is attained by 87 percent of the models scored on that standard (desktops don't count). Batteries free of lead, cadmium and mercury? That standard gets 58 percent conformity. No intentionally added cadmium? Barely half qualify on that at 53 percent. No intentionally added mercury in light sources? That's claimed for 10 percent of the models. Elimination of intentionally added lead in certain applications 4 percent. Use of plastics from biological rather than petroleum-based raw materials only 1 percent (six monitors made by Philips Electronics Ltd.).

Only 20 percent of companies audit recycling vendors to be reasonably sure that dangerous materials don't get processed or dumped in low-income countries or regions.

For some of these norms, equipment makers' research efforts have been driven by the regulatory clout of the European Union's Restriction on Hazardous Substances edict.

What Epeat provides is an overview on how comprehensively those improvements are passed along to U.S. consumers.

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