24 March 2009

Student demonstration time

Individual producer responsibility (IPR) could well become this year's de rigueur phrase (after 'green shoots of recovery' and 'it's not just cooking – it's a journey).

The idea behind IPR is simple enough. The original manufacturer of a product gets it back at the end of its life and is responsible for its (a) disposal, (b) reuse or (c) retrieval and reuse of individual components.
You may recall Richard Waterhouse's support for the implementation of an IPR directive, pushing – as it will – the responsibility further down the line to the design stage.
So I was fascinated to read about a drive to dispose of electronic waste, or 'e-waste' in the US. The recycling event has been organised by engineering students and encourages members of the public to collect unused and disposable electronics and components. The organisers plan to collect up to 50 tonnes of spent computers, cameras and cell phones which will then be recycled. Although the disposal of end of life products is a short term environmental solution, it does push the burden of responsibility further down the line to the design stage. By designing components to be easily retrievable – 'eco design' – less electrical equipment will end up in landfill.
It's just a shame that it requires the implementation of a new directive to push the electronics industry to address the environmental impact of its products, while a few engineering students have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own solution – albeit a short term one.

Chris Shaw

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