Five Winds International L.P.

Toxic and Hazardous Materials in Electronics

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In October 2000 Environment Canada released a report called Information Technology (IT) and Telecommunications (Telecom) Waste in Canada. The report identified significant quantities of IT and Telecom waste going to disposal and projected that the amount of computers, monitors, laptops, cell phones and other related equipment disposed will double from 36,900 tonnes in 1999 to an estimated 71,650 tonnes in 2005.

The IT and Telecom Waste in Canada report also described toxic or hazardous materials present in computer and telecom equipment and estimated the aggregate tonnage of such substances being disposed annually, primarily in landfills. Lead, mercury, cadmium, brominated flameretardants and other substances present in this equipment could pose hazards if they are released when the equipment is recycled, incinerated or disposed in landfills.

Building upon the IT and Telecom Waste in Canada report, this study documents the literature about selected toxic or hazardous materials used in computer and telecom equipment. It focuses on toxic or hazardous materials contained in personal computers, monitors, laptop computers, peripherals (e.g. printers, scanners), telephones, mobile telephones and facsimile machines. It does not address toxic or hazardous materials used in the manufacturing processes. The scope of products addressed is the same as those covered by the IT and Telecom Waste in Canada report.

Specifically, this study addresses three questions:

  1. What toxic or hazardous materials are contained in these products?
  2. What happens to these toxic or hazardous materials at the products’ end-of-life when they are recycled, landfilled or incinerated?
  3. What are product manufacturers doing to reduce toxic or hazardous materials in products and/or their potential for release to the environment at the products’ end-of-life?

This study examined nine toxic or hazardous materials that are, or were used in IT and telecom equipment: mercury (or it compounds), lead (or its compounds), cadmium (or its compounds), beryllium (or its compounds), hexavalent chromium, brominated flame-retardants, polyvinyl chlorides (PVC) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The information gained through this study will contribute to building the knowledge and expertise of parties responsible for government policies, laws, regulations and other initiatives concerning toxic and hazardous materials in Canada. This study will also be useful to identify areas of potential concern for IT and telecom recycling and disposal activities carried out by the Government of Canada (e.g. Computers for Schools program). Finally, this study will help the Government of Canada determine the relative importance of the IT and telecom sectors compared to other sources of toxic and hazardous materials released to the environment in Canada.

This study identifies and summarizes what is currently known in the areas of interest identified above. The information documented in this study is drawn from available literature including Toxic and published reports, proceedings of conferences and articles – original, previously unpublished research is not included. The report is organized as follows:

  • Chapter 2 documents the uses and quantities of mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, hexavalent chromium, antimony, brominated flame-retardants, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in IT and telecom equipment.
  • Chapter 3 documents releases to the workplace and to the environment of the above nine toxic or hazardous materials when the equipment is recycled (by hand or machine), disposed in landfills, or incinerated.
  • Chapter 4 examines examples of polices, management systems, programs and tools to reduce or eliminate toxic or hazardous materials from products by ten IT and Telecom OEMs. Brief case study examples of several products demonstrating reduction or elimination of toxic or hazardous materials are also included.
  • Chapter 5 presents some concluding remarks about this study and makes four recommendations to improve the quality and reach of this study and to further the goals of this study.
  • A Glossary is included to help the reader become familiar with specialized electronics terminology used in this report.
  • A complete list of sources consulted is included in References at the end of the report.
  • Appendix 1 presents environmental profiles of the toxic or hazardous materials referred to in this study, summarizing their potential toxicity and environmental effects.
  • Appendix 2 is a copy of Ericsson’s Lists of Banned and Restricted Materials
  • Appendix 3 is a copy of Motorola’s Eco-Design Substances List

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