California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) 

Electronic Waste Management

Electronic Equipment: Reducing Waste at CalRecycle

CalRecycle purchases, uses, and replaces electronic equipment to meet changing business needs. In keeping with CalRecycle's mission to reduce waste in California, attention is given to minimizing the waste associated with this electronic equipment.

Computer components in a box with a recycling symbol on the side.

Three main areas that provide opportunity to reduce waste from electronics are discussed in this case study:

As CalRecycle continues to improve its electronic equipment management efforts, progress and accomplishments will be added to this page. The most recent activities are listed first in the below descriptions.

E-Purchasing

Purchase of EPEAT-registered Computers

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) was developed in 2006 and is a system in which manufacturers declare their products' conformance to a comprehensive set of environmental criteria in 8 environmental performance categories. The operation of EPEAT and the environmental criteria are contained in a public standard IEEE 1680. Using EPEAT helps purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. It also helps manufacturers by providing a clear and consistent set of performance criteria for the design of products, and provides an opportunity for manufacturers to secure market recognition for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its products.

For its most recent computer upgrade in 2007/2008, CalRecycle selected a vendor and computer model that was registered via EPEAT. The selected computer met CalRecycle's business needs and was also registered at the "silver" level, meaning that it met or exceeded all of the 23 required EPEAT criteria and at least 14 of the optional criteria. In addition, as explained elsewhere, CalRecycle is also aggressively implementing advanced power management capabilities under the new equipment and operating system (Windows Vista) and hopes to achieve and successfully document significant power savings.

Reduced Packaging

Whenever a large quantity procurement of computers or components is initiated, CalRecycle specifically requests that vendors use as little packaging as possible. This continues the efforts of CalRecycle which managed all of CalRecycle's programs and activities until January 1, 2010.

Examples:

  • In June 2007, as a provision in their order for replacement computer systems, CalRecycle stipulated that the systems be delivered in "reusable" containers with minimal packaging. The computer systems were stacked and shipped on reusable wooden pallets, with cardboard placed between layers to prevent damage during shipping, and then the entire pallet was plastic-wrapped to secure the load to the pallet. The end result was minimal packaging required, and all packaging recycled. For additional components that came in separate cardboard boxes such as keyboards, all packaging was recycled.
  • In June 1998, CalRecycle ordered more than 500 DFI 233 MHz computer systems from a local vendor as part of a technology refresh upgrade. Typically, new computer systems are individually shipped in relatively large boxes with a significant amount of packaging materials surrounding the computer. However, since these were sturdy systems with sheet metal cases, CalRecycle requested that the vendor simply wrap each system in plastic and pack as many computers to a box as possible. The computers were delivered in about 25 large cardboard boxes on pallets, each of which contained about 20 computer systems closely packed in the box, with no polystyrene packaging blocks. Again, by requiring bulk packaging, CalRecycle was able to significantly reduce the amount of packaging materials and storage space requirements. After the systems were unpacked, the shipping company left with the pallets and the staff recycled the 25 large cardboard boxes.
  • In June 1997, as part of a planned operating system upgrade, CalRecycle upgraded all desktop computer hard drives by replacing the 240-megabyte (MB) disk drives with 2.1 gigabyte (GB) drives. Bulk packaging was required of the vendor when the components were ordered. As opposed to individual component packaging, the hard drives were packaged 20 to a box. Again, by requiring bulk packaging CalRecycle was able to significantly reduce the amount of packaging materials and storage space requirements.
  • In June 1996, CalRecycle made the decision to upgrade the processors in its Dell desktop computers from Intel 486 to Pentium Overdrive POD83 processor chips. If these had been purchased as standard "boxed" processors, CalRecycle would have received 500 boxes and foam packing, etc., which would have required a significant amount of storage space. Instead, CalRecycle's Information Management Branch (IMB) procurement staff made arrangements with the vendor supplying the processor chips to bulk package them in just five boxes, each of which included 5 chip trays containing 20 chips per tray. As a result, the total amount of packaging materials and storage space requirements was reduced by approximately 95 percent.

Reduced Energy Consumption and Improved Recyclability

CalRecycle adheres to environmentally preferable purchasing practices.

Examples:

  • In almost all instances, CalRecycle procures computer systems with steel cases (as opposed to plastic) since a significant portion of steel is already manufactured from recycled material and because steel can be easily recycled at the end of the equipment life.
  • CalRecycle procures small form factor computer systems with minimal but adequate expandability. As a result, these systems are smaller and consume less electrical power than "standard" systems.
  • CalRecycle implements power management features on displays and computer systems to the extent supported by the software and hardware technology. CalRecycle implements technologies such as Wake-On LAN to allow for administrative tasks to be performed off-hours without operator intervention.
  • CalRecycle has completely replaced all traditional CRT devices with Flat Panel Displays to reduce energy consumption and reduce electronic waste disposal volume.

Recycling of Packaging

In addition to reducing the amount of packaging used to ship electronic equipment, CalRecycle arranges for packaging materials including cardboard, and Styrofoam to be recycled (as did CalRecycle, its predecessor).

Examples:

  • In June 1998, as part of a technology refresh upgrade, CalRecycle ordered more than 500 ViewSonic 17-inch monitors with integrated speakers. The cardboard boxes used for shipping were all flattened and sent to a recycler. (Note: CalRecycle later learned that the polystyrene packaging blocks used in each box could also have been recycled if they had been shrink-wrapped and palletized for delivery to a recycler.)
  • In June 2000, as part of a technology upgrade coinciding with a move into a new headquarters office location, CalRecycle ordered more than 500 Gateway computer systems. While Gateway was not able to provide bulk packaging of their systems as described in an example above, Gateway did agree to accept the empty boxes and polystyrene packaging blocks provided these materials were handled carefully and could be reused by Gateway. These items were placed on pallets and shipped back to Gateway's packing material manufacturer.
  • On an ongoing basis, CalRecycle recycles or reuses all cardboard, plastic, and foam packaging materials. Near the freight elevator on every floor of the building CalRecycle occupies, special areas are designated for the cardboard that is to be recycled. Within the Information Management Branch of CalRecycle, designated containers have been established for recyclable cardboard, "foam" packing peanuts, and other packaging materials.

E-Reuse

Reuse of Computers and Components

CalRecycle considers various options for reuse of computers and components, as did its predecessor, CalRecycle.

  • Following the completion of a June 1997 disk upgrade project, CalRecycle supported a local organization and reduced waste by donating approximately two hundred 240 megabyte disk drives to a school district.
  • Following a June 1998 technology upgrade, CalRecycle demonstrated how surplus equipment from one department may be put to productive use by another. CalRecycle provided the Department of Toxic Substances Control with 200 Dell POD83 computers which they were able to reuse productively for some time afterwards.
  • As part of its June 2000 technology upgrade, CalRecycle took advantage of a system buy-back option provided by Gateway. Approximately 300 of the DFI (233 MHz) systems were "bought back" by Gateway to be wholesaled to a reseller. In order to save packaging material and money, the systems were placed on pallets and shrink-wrapped for return to Gateway. Even though it was felt that the computer cases provided sufficient protection, CalRecycle purchased shipping insurance at a nominal fee to preclude any potential problems. The Department of General Services (DGS) Traffic Management determined the cost and carrier for transporting the systems.
  • CalRecycle retained approximately 200 DFI computer (233 MHz) systems left over following CalRecycle's June 2000 technology upgrade and will deploy some for other uses such as telework.
  • Where appropriate, CalRecycle supports its partnerships with local agencies by loaning them surplus computer systems to assist them in their job duties and to facilitate access to information available from CalRecycle.
  • In all other cases, before disposing of equipment, CalRecycle sends a completed Property Survey Report, STD 152, to the Department of General Services, Property Reutilization Unit. In most cases, an item not reused by an agency or private buyer will enter into the public recycling sector.

E-Recycling

Recycling of "Re-Usable" Components and Materials

CalRecycle considers various options for components that can be recycled.

Examples:

Toner Cartridges and InkJet Cartridges. Per various State programs and especially those fostered by CalRecycle, the Information Management Branch (IMB) currently purchases recycled or "rebuilt" printer cartridges whenever these are available in the marketplace. For newer model printers, there may be a lag in being able to use recycled cartridges because it takes a while for the remanufacturers to figure out how to effectively refill or rebuild them and for a supply of used cartridges to become available. Also, for some older printer models, recycled cartridges (as opposed to new) may not perform adequately perhaps due to wear on other components in the printer. But, whenever recycled printer cartridges are available and meet the business needs of the organization with regard to reliability and quality, then CalRecycle purchases and uses recycled cartridges, and most of the cartridges purchased and used in CalRecycle, CalEPA, and I-Bank are recycled or rebuilt cartridges.

When a cartridge is replaced, the empty cartridge is placed in a special area near the freight elevators. The cartridges are collected and brought to the loading dock, and periodically picked up by a local recycling vendor under contract to provide this service.

CDs, DVDs and Diskettes. When ordering new computers and other peripherals, it is common for CDs with drivers to accompany them. CDs also come in the mail in the form of advertisements, internet service providers and catalogs or found on file as outdated software. CDs and DVDs are recyclable and CalRecycle staff are requested to send all unused CDs, CD-RWs, DVDs and diskettes to the IMB Computer Help Center for reuse, reformatting or recycling. CDs, defective floppies, destroyed backup tapes, and batteries are sent to the Waste Reduction Coordinator who determines the appropriate disposal and/or recycling methods.

Recycling of Unusable Computers and Components

CalRecycle considers various options for recycling unusable computers or components.

Examples:

  • State agencies typically cannot "surplus" to the DGS Property Reutilization Unit equipment consisting of nonworking computers or components. Each agency must explore the reutilization of surplus IT equipment prior to requesting approval for disposal or attempting to use the equipment as a credit toward the purchase or lease of new equipment. After CalRecycle determines the most viable form of disposal and receives approval from DGS at least 30 days prior to date of disposal, CalRecycle's Business Administration Office (BAO) and in cases of component e-waste, the CalEPA Sustainability Coordinator, follows through on the approved method. These methods consist of but are not limited to trade-in, donation, or disposal through the approved DGS contractor (SAM Sections 5903, 8633, 8640-43).
  • For relatively low-cost individual electronic components that malfunction (e.g., disk drives, sound cards, modems, motherboards, etc.), IMB staff store the failed components in e-waste bins. When the e-waste bins (actually they're cardboard or plastic boxes!) are full, CalRecycle's BAO contacts a local recycling company to pick up the components.

This case study provides one example of how government agencies and businesses can reduce the amount of electronic waste generated. In each of the phases--procurement, use and end-of-life management--opportunities exist to reduce electronic waste and packaging waste and extending the productive life of electronics.

Last updated: January 25, 2010
Electronic Discards http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Electronics/
Contact: EWaste@calrecycle.ca.gov (916) 341-6269