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November 2007

State electronics challenge announced
Focus is on state agencies for both quantity and private sector influence

At the National Recycling Coalition’s 26th Annual Congress and Expo in September, Lynn Rubenstein of the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) announced the October 1 launch of the State Electronics Challenge (SEC), including the challenge’s new website,

The SEC follows the same guidelines as the Federal Electronics Challenge (FEC) created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive. While the FEC focused on federal governmental agencies, the SEC is focusing on state agencies, beginning in the northeast. In fact, the project was initially named the Northeast State Electronics Challenge, but was changed to reflect the eventual nationwide challenge.

Funding for the SEC came from EPA. Representatives from Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, along with NERC, developed the program.

The SEC is a totally voluntary program that asks “partners” to minimize the life-cycle environmental footprint of electronics. Becoming a partner in the challenge is as simple as signing up. Partners then commit to setting goals for the purchase and management of electronics.

NERC is focusing on state agencies because the scale of purchasing and the large number of electronics being managed by state agencies means that small changes at that level can both affect environmental quality and can also influence entities in the private sector.

What NERC offers its partners is information, implementation tools, recognition and technical assistance. It also promotes the use of programs already in place, like the EPA’s Electronics Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), Energy Star, and Plug into eCycling.

EPEAT computer products meet performance standards that make them more environmentally friendly, reduce energy use during their lifetime, and reduce the amount of hazardous and municipal waste after disposal. The use of power management features on computers that are Energy Star compliant can further reduce power consumption.

Rubenstein said that for every 1,000 EPEAT computers purchased and recycled, it saves enough energy “to power 101 houses annually.” Greenhouse gases are reduced equivalent to removing 71 passenger cars from use. Municipal solid waste is reduced by 17 metric tons, hazardous waste is reduced by 8.5 metric tons, and toxic materials including lead and mercury are reduced by 340 pounds.

EPEAT computer equipment is rated as bronze, silver or gold level; all must comply with 23 required criteria, and upper levels must also comply with a percentage of the 28 optional criteria. NERC is recommending purchase of silver level computers or higher. Rubenstein noted that it’s not difficult to find EPEAT computer equipment. There are over 650 items, manufactured by 24 different manufacturers listed on the EPEAT website,

NERC also recommends extending the life of computers by upgrading computers when possible, and by donating computers rather than disposing of them. When recycling, NERC asks partners to use environmentally sound procedures as promoted by the EPA’s Plug-In to e-Cycling program.

Some of the resources that NERC offers partners are the SEC website, a “toolkit” for implementing the goals of the program, ways to assess progress of individual programs, case studies, and one-on-one technical help.

Rubenstein said that one aspect of the program is public recognition of partners.

The first SEC partner to sign on was the state of New Hampshire and Rubenstein said that Governor Lynch was very excited about being recognized as the very first to sign up. Rubenstein said that other partners may prefer to participate without any public recognition, and that is also an option.

As the program progresses, partners will be recognized based on their ability to reduce the environmental impact of their electronics. NERC’s goal is to enroll at least 50 partners in the first year of the program, and eventually to extend the program nationwide.