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U.C. System Adopts Ambitious E-Waste Policies

The ten-campus University of California system is taking the lead on addressing electronics purchasing, e-waste, and electronics recycling that could affect the entire high-tech industry.

The University of California 10-campus system has passed a new far-reaching "Environmental Sustainability Policy" that includes provisions on energy, global warming, waste, and eco-friendly purchasing. With this announcement, U.C. has become the first university in the nation to adopt guidelines for buying greener electronics, disposal of e-waste, and "takeback" recycling. Given its size and proximity to the high-tech industry, U.C.'s decision could potentially have enormous impacts on how electronics are made and recycled.

With over 200,000 U.C. students, the University purchases more than 10,000 computers each month and disposes of approximately 1 million pounds of e-waste annually. Additionally, U.C. students buy millions of computers, cell phones, MP3 players, and other electronics every year. The U.C.'s passage of the Sustainability Policy comes after the year-long efforts of the student-run "Toxic Free U.C." campaign sponsored by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The students have worked to use their purchasing leverage to reduce harmful chemicals and the negative impacts on workers, communities, and the environment during electronics manufacturing and disposal.

"With this new policy, U.C. and U.C. students can use their purchasing power to move electronics companies to make greener products that are less toxic and more easily recyclable," said Maureen Cane, SVTC's campus organizer. "The U.C. is truly taking the lead toward a more sustainable future."

Under its new Sustainability Policy, U.C. will only buy products registered under EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool). Similar to "Energy Star," EPEAT measures laptops, desktop computers, and monitors according to a set of environmental standards such as reduction in harmful chemicals, designs that are more easily recycled, and product longevity.

U.C. will also integrate "takeback" recycling into their purchasing contracts, placing the burden of disposing e-waste on the electronics manufacturers. Finally, the U.C. has outlined a set of responsible recycling criteria that must be met by any manufacturer or recycler that handles U.C. e-waste, including a ban on export and prison labor.

"I want to know that the electronics that I use to do my school work are not harming people and the environment in impoverished countries," said Candice Carr Kelman, a U.C. Irvine student who is part of SVTC's Toxic-Free U.C. Campaign. "I am proud to say that U.C. has taken a strong stand against exporting e-waste to other countries or to prisons."

Computers and electronics contain vast quantities of toxic materials and create a significant risk to human health and the environment globally. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, less than 20 percent of U.S. electronics are responsibly recycled.

The vast majority of e-waste ends up in storage, landfills, waste incinerators, or is exported to developing countries where workers and children are paid as little as 25¢ an hour to recover scrap metal. Some of the toxic e-waste also ends up in state and federal prisons in the U.S., exposing captive prison workers to these hazardous materials.

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