Electronics manufacturers are increasingly using safer chemicals in their products, according to a report by TCO Certified, which provides independent sustainability certification for IT products.
The report compares 2016 environmentally and socially responsible working conditions in factories manufacturing TCO certified products to those in 2013. It covers tier one factories making certified product models for 16 brand owners: Acer, AOC, ASUS, BenQ, Dell, EIZO, Fujitsu, Hanns.G, HP, iiyama, Lenovo, LG, NEC, Philips, TERRA and ViewSonic.
It says brand owners have improved working conditions in their factories, particularly in areas such as discrimination and forced labor.
The report also find a “paradigm shift” in the use of hazardous chemicals in IT products. TCO Certified only accepts flame retardants that have been independently benchmarked as safer alternatives for use in certified products.
Additionally, brand owners are increasingly engaged in efforts around conflict minerals, it says. Twenty-two of 27 brand owners in 2016 published a conflict mineral policy.
But there is still room for improved factory conditions, the report concludes, pointing to excessive working hours being a continuing problem for IT factory workers in 2016.
The report comes as IT manufacturers are facing more scrutiny over — and responsibility for — the environmental and social impacts of their products and materials used to make them and dispose of them at end of life. In December, Apple agreed to pay $450,000 to settle allegations of hazardous waste violations at facilities in Silicon Valley.
In another example of how manufacturers are being held accountable for the environmental management of their products, from design through end of life, New Jersey has a new 2017 e-waste law that requires manufactures to recycle more of their electronics — an attempt to address the growing volumes of e-waste, of which only 29 percent is recycled.
Globally, more than 20 million tons of e-waste are produced every year, with the US generating about 3.4 million tons of that.
Some manufacturers are already designing their products so that they are more easily disassembled for repair and recycling. One of these is Dell, which, since 2008 has included post-consumer recycled plastics in its desktops and as of January reached its 2020 goal of using 50 million pounds of recycled materials in its products.
In an earlier interview with Environmental Leader, Scott O’Connell, Dell’s director of environmental affairs, said Dell works with its engineers to design products that can be easily repaired or recycled.
“We routinely take our design engineers in to the recyclers that we work with to get real-world feedback on good design and bad design,” O’Connell said.