Friday, February 27, 2009


E-waste pilot project delivers


26 February 2009

Workers processed over 60 tons of
e-waste in ten months.

The aluminium rings used to make these
pretty earrings came out of a harddrive.

Left, an Africa-shaped clock made from
a circuit board, and right, a prototype of
the e-waste harddrive clock.

(All images: HP e-waste plant)

Janine Erasmus

Preliminary results of a pilot project to tackle the growing problem of electronic waste, or e-waste, in Africa have been released, showing a number of beneficial spin-offs, including job creation and income generation.

The project, taking place in South Africa, Kenya and Morocco, is run jointly by IT giant HP, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, and the Global Digital Solidarity Fund, which works to narrow the digital divide on a global level. A number of local organisations and NGOs are also participating.

E-waste is defined as electrical or electronic equipment which is waste, including all components, subassemblies and consumables which are part of the product at the time of discarding. It includes computers and entertainment electronics consisting of valuable as well as harmful and toxic components.

The aim of the project is to assess and improve the current situation of e-waste management in Africa in such a way that more jobs can be created, especially in the informal recycling sector. It also seeks to incorporate proven informal processing activities into the scheme, and grow them into sustainable operations.

Project manager Mathias Schluep of the Swiss research organisation said that they were keen to tap into "some of the incredible entrepreneurial skills in the informal sector in Africa. By providing tools and training we have removed potential environmental and health problems that can be caused by handling e-waste incorrectly."

As most e-waste in developing nations is still disposed of informally, there is little in the way of regulation to protect the workers who are exposed to harmful substances. These include heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and mercury, and chlorofluorocarbons.

The three organisations involved have to date gathered important information on how African governments, organisations and society are managing e-waste, which is currently one of the fastest-growing sectors worldwide.

"We see these projects in Africa as both providing employment opportunities for local communities and as a step towards a sustainable solution for tackling electronic waste in Africa," said HP's environmental business manager Klaus Hieronymi.
Recycling as a last resort

The South African operation, located in the industrial area of Maitland, Cape Town, represented the main focus of the project. During its initial run from February to November 2008 the facility processed about 60 metric tons of electronic equipment, generated an impressive income of around R140 000 ($14 000) in the 10 months, and created direct employment for 19 people.

The labour-intensive work involves low-tech material dismantling and component recovery from discarded electronic goods. Labourers were drawn from the local community, and were trained to refurbish and repair the unwanted equipment that poured in. Recycling was considered a last resort, and a few creative people even turned non-toxic waste into pieces of art, jewellery and useful items such as clocks.

Information gathered from the pilot stage will be invaluable during the second phase, which will see the partners tackling the private sector and governments with a view to broadening the scope of the project to other countries and, eventually, the entire continent. It is hoped that the project will move to a sustainable level, with the deployment of medium to large infrastructure pilots in various countries.
E-waste dilemma

The Global Digital Solidarity Fund was delighted with the results, saying that the project has helped to solve the dilemma of what do with old equipment, since information technology is an important component of many developing countries' economies. "We have moved some way to closing the loop by providing a model for safe and efficient treatment and disposal of e-waste," commented spokesperson Cisse Kane.

Assessment studies carried out in Kenya and Morocco have shed light on the e-waste situation in the two countries, particularly in terms of legislation, local awareness, infrastructure, and the total amount of waste generated.

In Kenya the amount of waste produced from only computers, monitors and printers is about 3 000 tons every year, and this is growing. In 2007 the amount was 200% higher than in the previous year - this is attributed to the increasing importation of computers into the country. Steps should be taken now, said the project report, to address the emerging challenge.

In Morocco the e-waste generated by all electronic equipment, including televisions, mobile phones and computers, adds up to a massive 30 300 tons.

Neither country has any legislation in place to specifically address e-waste management. This is significant when considering the toxic content of e-waste. If not disposed of properly, heavy metals and other poisonous substances can leach out of discarded components into the soil or groundwater, contaminating plants and eventually the population.

Formalisation of the e-waste recycling sector in the pilot countries is one of the issues to be tackled by the project as it moves into a higher gear.
Keeping South Africa clean

In South Africa the awareness of the importance of proper e-waste disposal is growing, and there are already a number of disposal points around the country. More information and exact locations can be found on the website of the E-waste Association of South Africa.

E-waste activist Johnny Clegg, better known as one of South Africa's most loved musicians, has taken up the cause in his capacity as co-founder of black economic empowerment company Vuthela Services. Vuthela is the majority shareholder of e-waste recycling specialist African Sky.

"Europe generates more than 500-million tons of e-waste every year," said Clegg. "If South Africa picked up just 5% of it, we could create 10 000 jobs."

South Africa has its own environmental watchdogs in the form of the Environmental Management Inspectors, better known as the Green Scorpions. This vigilant unit was formed in 2005 through an amendment to the national Environmental Management Act, which then provided for the appointment of environmental inspectors by national and provincial government.

The unit is made up of members of the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism as well as representatives from South Africa National Parks. The Green Scorpions are tasked with enforcing the country's various environmental laws, and bringing to book those who contravene the legislation.

* Do you have queries or comments about this article? Contact Janine Erasmus at

Thursday, February 26, 2009


Wednesday, February 25, 2009


You can see me here


Cell Phones, the New Cigarettes
By Albert Roman
Epoch Times Staff Feb 25, 2009
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Related articles: Health > Environment & Health

Elizabeth Barris is concerned about the ill effects of cell phones and Wi-Fi.
Elizabeth Barris is concerned about the ill effects of cell phones and Wi-Fi. (Mike Chamness)
Elizabeth Barris, director of The People’s Initiative Foundation, a new non profit organization, is on a mission to change the law and inform the public about the devastating health effects from EMR (electromagnetic radiation), which is emitted from cell phones and Wi-Fi.

Her most recent actions include a letter of request to Governor Schwarzenegger, First Lady Maria Shriver, Department of Health Services (CDHS), and Office of Environmental Health hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to mandate that all wireless product packaging carry a warning label, as well as the buildings, which carry the signals.

She has also submitted legislation on both the state and federal level entitled The Children’s Wireless Protection Act calling for the warning labels but also addressing Wi-Fi in schools and the need to replace this infrastructure with hard wired cable or DSL.

“The ill health effects from the current wireless infrastructure effects both the students and teachers who are forced to work in a highly charged EMR environment. A hard wired cable or DSL environment would give the same benefits of fast Internet access but without the ill health effects,” she says. Ms. Barris has also been working on an as of yet to be completed documentary film on the subject for the past two years.

“It (warnings) should be on the packaging just like cigarettes so that parents know that this product could potentially give their child a brain tumor. Anyone who uses a cell phone should be informed of these findings, but they’re not. The labels should also be on industry’s dime rather than the taxpayers,” says Barris.
Alarmist Talk?

Back in the 1990’s, Dr. George Carlo, former lead epidemiologist of Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA), spearheaded a six-year, $25 million study on cell phones and public health. In a clip from the trailer of Barris’s documentary on the subject, Dr. Carlo asserts, “There are over 300 statistically significant findings showing an increased risk of tumors [from cell phone use]. There are about three or four statistically significant findings showing no increased risk. So it’s like 300 to four. Now how do you reconcile that with what you see in the news media? We have never had an exposure like this before. We’ve never had an exposure that’s dangerous that’s being sustained by four billion people (cell phone users worldwide). We’ve never had it in history.”

Carlo’s not alone. The recently published BioInitiative Report contains a compilation of damning studies from around the world of top oncologists, scientists, and public health experts attesting to the harmful effects of EMR.

Included in this report are findings from Dr. Lennardt Hardell, a world renowned leader in neurology from Sweden, who in 2006 authored an article published in World Journal of Surgical Oncology, stating, “In our series of studies on tumor risk associated with use of cellular or cordless telephones the consistent finding for all studied phone types was an increased risk for brain tumors, mainly acoustic neuroma and malignant brain tumors.”

In a more recent study presented at the Radiation Research Trust conference in London last year on EMR and health effects, Dr. Hardell presented an unpublished study which found a 5-fold increase in childhood brain tumors when the child begins to use the cell phone before the age of 20.

The enormous and recent increase in use of cell phones by children is of particular concern.

In 2007, there was a 46 percent increase of cell phone use in children between 8 and 12, according to Dr. Devra Davis, Healthy Child Advisory Board member, and director of the Center for Environmental Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Carlo is also deeply concerned about cell phone use among children. “When you start talking about a child 8- or 9-years-old beginning [cell phone] use, by the time they are 18 or 19 years old, they will have used the phone for 10 years. The projections that we do have indicate that we are putting these children in unbelievable danger,” he says.

Dr. Carlo also believes that EMR contributes to autism and ADHD:
Mariea T, Carlo G. “Wireless Radiation in the Etiology and Treatment of Autism: Clinical Observations and Mechanisms”, Australasian Journal of Clinical Environmental Medicine 2007; 26(2): 3–7, 17.

Barris’ proposed legislation addresses wireless technology in schools. “There is a great misconception that Wi-Fi in the public school system helps learning. Wi-Fi disrupts learning. Wi-Fi causes ADD and ADHD in children. Wi-Fi in schools means that these children and teachers are sitting for eight hours a day in a field of electro magnetic radiation with fields strong enough to carry the Internet.” says Barris.

Charles Graham, Ph.D., physiologist at the Midwest Research Institute in Kansas City, Mo., has conducted studies indicating that electromagnetic radiation alters hormone levels. When women were exposed to elevated levels of EMR overnight in the laboratory serum estrogen levels increased. Studies have shown that elevated estrogen levels are a risk for cancer development. Graham C, Cook M, Gerkovich M, Sastre A. “Examination of the melatonin hypothesis in women exposed at night to EMR or bright light,” Environmental Health Perspective 2001 May; 109(5): 501–507.

“The ratio of female to male births is already being thrown [off] (in favor of females), but will be much more extreme in the years to come from putting our children in EMF all day long and exposing their young and still developing bodies to this EMR. It is a problem we have never in the history of evolution encountered. Also, EMR is genotoxic, so any amount of exposure changes the cell and can compromise the immune system,” says Barris.

In France there are ad campaigns regarding the ill health effects of cell phones, and France has now even banned advertising cell phones to children under 12. In addition, 11 other countries including the U.K., Japan, India, Israel, and Russia have issued either public health warnings regarding children and cell phones or placed restrictions on their sales to minors and advertising to minors. Why hasn’t the United States followed suit?
Conflict of Interest?

Barris considers it peculiar that the FDA delegated the responsibility of creating safety standards for EMR to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which regulates the telecommunications in the United States and internationally, to set standards related to acceptable levels of radio frequency (RF) exposure.

“There are two problems [with this]. The FCC is not a health organization, and is therefore not qualified to make assessments health. Second, the FCC resorted to allowing the telecom industry and its paid industry scientists to set the current standards. Would you trust the tobacco industry to tell you about the safety of their product or would you prefer the U.S. Surgeon General to do it?” asks Barris.

Another conflict of interest could be the fact that frequency bandwidth is auctioned off by the government to the telecom industry. Barris doubts the FCC would compromise its financial interests by doing anything to adversely affect the industry’s profits, thereby biting the hand that feeds it.

Additionally, the Center for Public Integrity has found that FCC officials are bribed by the telecom industry with such perks as expensive trips to Las Vegas.

Even more interesting is that in the past few years it has been brought to light that the telecom industry has been attempting to change the acceptable Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of EMR emitted from cell phones tenfold from 1.6 watts per kilogram to 16 w/Kg. This would enable wireless technology consumers to watch movies and television on their cell phones. Barris believes that this is an example of industry safety standards being based on protecting industry profits rather than human health. “Have our bodies changed so much recently that we can now absorb 10 times the amount of radiation? Or has something else changed? Like the need to sell more product?” she asks.

It should also be noted that FCC’s acceptable standards of RF exposure are based on the obsolete theory that the only risk from RF and microwave exposure is excessive heating of tissue (thermal effects).

Dr. Carlo is also deeply concerned that the cell phone industry’s history might be analogous to that of tobacco, of which he states, “The power of the industry to influence governments and even conflicts of interest within the public health community delayed action for more than a generation, with consequent loss of life and enormous extra health care costs to society.”

A constructed epidemic curve projection shows, according to Carlo, that a massive increase in cases of brain and eye cancer attributable to cell phone use will occur in the coming years. “Those numbers are unprecedented.”

“There are not enough brain surgeons in the world to address [this issue]. This is a rabbit hole that, when you go down into it, it opens up into a black hole. I’m continually shocked at what I find. It goes from unconscionable to downright criminal,” said Barris.

What Does Industry Say?

The telecommunications industry claims that the scientific findings reveal no link between cell phone use and harmful health effects and that further testing is needed. Indeed, many of industry’s scientific findings are inconclusive or find no causal relationship between RF and EMR and negative health effects. “The industry considers studies related to the adverse health effects on children and adults as a public relations problem as opposed to an actual problem that needs to be dealt with,” says Barris.

Barris expects a “tsunami” of both brain tumors and lawsuits in the very near future. “The industry’s objective is to have more studies to refute the studies which show ill-health effects from cell phones and EMR,” she says, adding that this is the strategy designed to keep the money rolling in for as long as possible and head off protective legislation.

What’s Being Done by the U.S. Government?
Congressman Dennis Kucinich of (D-Ohio) is chair of the subcommittee of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which held a hearing regarding cell phones and cancer last September. Because of the disparate findings and interpretation of findings by scientists, concrete measures to warn people of the effects of cell phones have not been made. Barris hopes that with the election of President Obama, and his approach of “preventative measures” regarding health care, these health and safety factors with cell phones and Wi-Fi will be addressed.

What’s the Solution?
With scientific studies yielding different results, coupled with an increasing usage and dependence on wireless technology, what should the public do?

Dr. David Carpenter and Cindy Sage, co-authors of a portion of BioInitiative Report (, suggest continued research is necessary, but we shouldn’t wait for the results—precautions and substantive changes should be established now. They recommend “wired alternatives to Wi-Fi be implemented, particularly in schools and libraries so that children are not subjected to elevated RF levels until more is understood about possible health impacts.

Barris suggests that parents get active in having Wi-Fi removed from schools. They can do so by calling or writing their school representatives and public officials to express their concerns. One can also sign an online petition:

She has the following suggestions for parents whose children use cell phones:

• Invest in a $10.00 landline and use it! Do not use cordless phones. “It’s better to have the inconvenience of a landline than the inconvenience of a brain tumor.”
• Limit cell phone use to emergencies only, including texting.
• Don’t let them sleep with their cell phones under their pillows at night so they can text their friends.
• Turn off all cell phones when not in use.
• Use a speakerphone whenever possible.
• Start trying to break your own habit of using a cell phone by setting a good example for your children, and tell them why you’re doing it.
• Use a headset, preferably the old fashioned kind that wraps around the head, as opposed to sticking a wire inside the ear if you do have to use your cell phone in an emergency situation.
• Get an “air tube headset” online, as it is currently one of the better alternatives to sticking a hard wired signal right inside your ear
• Last but not least, INVEST IN A LANDLINE!

Carpenter and Sage add, “For emissions from wireless devices [cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and so on], there is enough evidence for increased risk of brain tumors and acoustic neuromas now to warrant intervention with respect to their use.

“Redesign of cell phones and PDAs could prevent direct head and eye exposure, for example, by designing new units so that they work only with a wired headset or on speakerphone mode,” says Carpenter and Sage.

“If industry is requesting further tests, then why don’t we have warning labels in the meantime, erring on the side of caution rather than ignorance?” asks Barris.

If you or someone you know has a story related to this subject and thinks it should be considered for the documentary Barris is currently working on, please contact her at
Last Updated
Feb 25, 2009


From The Sunday Times
January 11, 2009
Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches
New research lifts lid on links between CO2 emissions and internet searches
Jonathan Leake and Richard Woods

Alex Wissner-Gross decribes his research in detail | Google's response to the story

Clarification added 16th January: A report about online energy consumption (Google and you'll damage the planet, Jan 11) said that "performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle" or about 7g of CO2 per search. We are happy to make clear that this does not refer to a one-hit Google search taking less than a second, which Google says produces about 0.2g of CO2, a figure we accept. In the article, we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”
Related Links

* How you can help reduce the footprint of the Web


* Tech Central: Google's response

Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines - about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

Though Google says it is in the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.

It may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart. Google’s infrastructure sends you data from whichever produces the answer fastest. The system minimises delays but raises energy consumption. Google has servers in the US, Europe, Japan and China.

Wissner-Gross has submitted his research for publication by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and has also set up a website “Google are very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,” he said.

Google said: “We are among the most efficient of all internet search providers.”

Wissner-Gross has also calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos.

A separate estimate from John Buckley, managing director of, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether you have to start your PC or not. Simply running a PC generates between 40g and 80g per hour, he says. of CO2 Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use).

Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, has calculated that maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is almost as much used by the average Brazilian.

“It’s not an unreasonable comparison,” said Liam Newcombe, an expert on data centres at the British Computer Society. “It tells us how much energy westerners use on entertainment versus the energy poverty in some countries.”

Though energy consumption by computers is growing - and the rate of growth is increasing - Newcombe argues that what matters most is the type of usage.

If your internet use is in place of more energy-intensive activities, such as driving your car to the shops, that’s good. But if it is adding activities and energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, that may pose problems.

Newcombe cites Second Life and Twitter, a rapidly growing website whose 3m users post millions of messages a month. Last week Stephen Fry, the TV presenter, was posting “tweets” from New Zealand, imparting such vital information as “Arrived in Queenstown. Hurrah. Full of bungy jumping and ‘activewear’ shops”, and “Honestly. NZ weather makes UK look stable and clement”.

Jonathan Ross was Twittering even more, with posts such as “Am going to muck out the pigs. It will be cold, but I’m not the type to go on about it” and “Am now back indoors and have put on fleecy tracksuit and two pairs of socks”. Ross also made various “tweets” trying to ascertain whether Jeremy Clarkson was a Twitter user or not. Yesterday the Top Gear presenter cleared up the matter, saying: “I am not a twit. And Jonathan Ross is.”

Such internet phenomena are not simply fun and hot air, Newcombe warns: the boom in such services has a carbon cost.

Friday, February 20, 2009

If you're interested in watching me on TV talking about these issues..


You are reading this on your computer or perhaps your blackberry/iPhone or some such device. Some of us are already on our third or fourth computer. How many, increasingly multi-featured, cell-phones are we going to own in a lifetime? Given that normally their resale value is nil, what happens to all the electronic equipment once we decide to trade-up?
Today’s lecture does not offer us a solution but it will alert you to the growing problem of e-waste.
Toby Miller, Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside, delivers the 2008 Ioan Davies Memorial Lecture at York University.

New Flying Solo videos have been uploaded this week. The three links below are a samples selected on the occasion of February being black history month

Ato Quayson on the burden of identity

Rinaldo Walcott on “I’m here because you were there”

Nalo Hopkinson on utopian literature

BIG IDEAS airs on TVOntario every Saturday and Sunday at 4:00 pm. To download our podcast, please go to our website at .

You can also listen to BIG IDEAS podcasts via iTunes. The same goes for the Robert Adams video-podcasts.

Don’t hesitate to share this e-mail with friends who you suspect might be interested in BIG IDEAS lectures.


well, maybe:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Toxic rubbish 'dumped in Africa'

Tonnes of toxic waste from municipal dumps in the West are being dumped illegally in countries like Nigeria and Ghana, an investigation has found.

Hundreds of thousands of broken items like TVs and computers are being sold to dealers on the pretext of re-use.

Under EU law, such household appliances must be dismantled or recycled.

But they are stripped of raw metals by those working on poisoned waste dumps, the report by Greenpeace, Sky News and Britain's Independent newspaper found.

Greenpeace said the young people working on such dumps often break apart the electronic items for parts, but in doing so are exposed to poisonous chemicals like mercury, lead and cadmium.

“ We took all the insides out and put [in] a tracker device ”
Environmentalist Iza Kruszewskahe

"We basically managed to track a TV going from the UK allegedly as second-hand equipment to Nigeria," Iza Kruszewskahe, from the environmental group, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"When in fact we knew, because we gutted it, this TV, before it left the UK, we took all the insides out and put [in] a tracker device, which enabled us to track this old TV from the UK, through the recycler, etc to Nigeria."

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2009/02/18 17:21:10 GMT


February 18, 2009
Dumped in Africa: Britain’s toxic waste
By Cahal Milmo
Children exposed to poisonous material in defiance of UK law

Tonnes of toxic waste collected from British municipal dumps is being sent illegally to Africa in flagrant breach of this country’s obligation to ensure its rapidly growing mountain of defunct televisions, computers and gadgets are disposed of safely.

Hundreds of thousands of discarded items, which under British law must be dismantled or recycled by specialist contractors, are being packaged into cargo containers and shipped to countries such as Nigeria and Ghana, where they are stripped of their raw metals by young men and children working on poisoned waste dumps.

In a joint investigation by The Independent, Sky News, and Greenpeace, a television that had been broken beyond repair was tracked to an electronics market in Lagos, Nigeria, after being left at a civic amenity site in Basingstoke run by Hampshire Country Council. Under environmental protection laws It was classified as hazardous waste and should never have left the UK.

The television, fitted with a satellite tracking device, was bought by a London-based dealer, one of dozens of operators buying up a significant proportion of the estimated 940,000 tonnes of domestic electronic waste, or e-waste, produced in the UK each year and sending it for export.

Investigators bought back the television after a 4,500-mile journey from Tilbury Docks in Essex to the giant Alaba electronics market in Lagos, where up to 15 shipping containers of discarded electronics from Europe and Asia arrive every day. At least a third of the contents of each container is broken beyond use and transferred to dumps where waste pickers scavenge amid a cocktail of burning heavy metals and dioxins. The television is just one example of a broader problem with the enforcement of the legislation, which permits the export of functioning equipment but prohibits broken electronic goods from being sent outside the EU to a country with a developing economy.

Such is the confused state of the recycling industry, with some local authorities collating figures on the amount of waste being exported and others simply handing the task to sub-contractors, that the e-waste body representing the electronics industry admits abuse is widespread.

Claire Snow, the director of the Industry Council for Equipment Recycling (ICER), told The Independent: “It is clear that the system for collecting equipment which UK householders have thrown away is not working as well as it should.

“On the pretext of re-use, equipment which is clearly not suitable for any type of re-use is effectively being dumped in developing countries.”

Government figures show that 450,000 tonnes of e-waste is currently being treated in accordance with Britain’s waste electronic and electrical equipment laws, which place a responsibility on manufacturers to meet the environmental cost. But with the average Briton throwing away four pieces of e-waste every year, approximately 500,000 tonnes is going unaccounted for. Industry research seen by The Independent estimates that at least 10,000 tonnes of waste televisions and 23,000 tonnes of computers classified as hazardous waste are being illegally exported as part of a wider e-waste market worth “tens of millions of pounds”.

Campaigners say dealers offering around £3 for a television and £1 for a computer monitor to waste sites are undercutting specialist recycling companies, creating a “grey market”.

Britain is responsible for around 15 per cent of the EU’s total e-waste, which is growing three times faster than any other muncipal waste stream.

Bosses at Hampshire County Council last night launched an inquiry into its waste sites but insisted it and its household waste site contractor, Hopkins Recycling, only used dealers who exported functional equipment.

A spokesman for Consumers International, which is campaigning for tightened e-waste controls, said: “The sight of children scavenging toxic wastelands overflowing with the West’s unwanted computers and televisions makes a mockery of international bans to prevent the dumping of e-waste. Western governments, including the UK, have shown little desire to deal with the root cause of this problem.”

Monday, February 16, 2009


The junk man cometh: But he won't recycle
Created: 2009-2-16
Author:Wu Jiayin

IT is unfortunate that qualified e-garbage recycling and treatment companies in Shanghai have to struggle for survival by trying to win business from illegal e-garbage treatment factories.

Among them is Shanghai Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Recycling Center, a company specializing in WEEE trading, classification and disposal.

Founded in 2004 and opened to business in late 2006, it's hard for the company to persuade companies and individuals in the city to donate their e-garbage, said General Manager Yang Guixing, in an interview with Shanghai Daily.

An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 tons of used electronic devices are disposed of each year in Shanghai, yet only 3,000 tons were treated by the company last year, only one-tenth of its treatment capacity.

Most discarded electronic devices were collected by individuals who travel about neighborhoods collecting e-garbage and then selling it to illegal e-garbage treatment factories.

Individual collectors usually offer from several yuan to several hundred yuan, depending on the condition of the device.

By contrast, qualified e-garbage recycling companies rarely pay and sometimes even charge for the e-devices to be treated.

The reason individual e-trash collectors pay a higher price is that illegal e-trash treatment factories pay them a premium. They refurbish and resell the devices at second-hand markets.

They may separate the valuable metals and hazardous heavy metals and sell them separately - the separation process is usually done with poor-quality equipment and technology.

Around 100 grams of gold can be separated from one ton of used mobile phone batteries, compared with a few or several tens of grams of gold that can be separated from ordinary gold ores, according to a report by China Business News last December.

Printed circuit boards also have a rich metal content: copper, gold, aluminum, and so on.

By selling the extracted heavy metals and throwing away worthless residues, the illegal e-garbage companies are highly profitable.

Yet the improper treatment of e-garbage residues containing highly polluting elements can seriously damage the environment.

The cadmium in one mobile phone battery is enough to pollute three standard-size swimming pools, experts say.

Other common toxic elements like lead, mercury, chromium and so on can cause great harm to the environment and human health if they are not properly treated and are discharged directly into the environment.

For a qualified company, however, "the cost of collecting, disassembling, as well as rendering e-garbage harmless is high," said Yang.

The company invested more than 15 million yuan (US$2.2 million) in equipment to treat e-trash. The cost has yet to be recovered and does not include cost of factory construction, labor and so on.

To compete with individual e-rubbish collectors and prevent further loss, the Shanghai WEEE Recycling Center is forced to pay companies that are about to junk a large amount of electronic devices, but it is still less than what individual collectors pay.

The company is considering individual e-garbage collectors as possible franchise holders.

However, the company's disadvantaged situation is unlikely to be dramatically improved without government's support.

"If the government could grant us some subsidies in recycling e-garbage, we would be able to offer higher prices than individual collectors so they would either join us or be forced out of the market,'' said Yang.

More practical laws and regulations are needed.

Since February 2008 companies that illegally dispose of e-trash can face fines from 50,000-100,000 yuan.

But vague definition of e-garbage makes enforcement difficult: companies that illegally dispose of e-rubbish can argue they are only trading second-hand electronic devices rather than e-garbage.

The situation is expected to improve if the State Council approves Regulations on the Management of Recycling and Treatment of Used or Waste from Household Appliances and Electronic Equipment this year as expected.

A draft says that producers of electronic devices, wholesalers and after-sales service organizations are responsible for recycling used e-devices or e-garbage and using qualified treatment factories.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Flow of analog TVs growing steadily
By Susan Abram, Staff Writer
Updated: 02/14/2009 11:36:50 PM PST

CANOGA PARK - The televisions keep coming, some with screens as wide as the back of an SUV, others as small as a child's tin lunchbox.

As the nation switches to new digital television technology, old analog TV sets are being discarded, some to places like The Salvation Army Family Store in Canoga Park, where more than a dozen or so of the TVs are donated each day.

Purchases of the old sets has been brisk, reported Capt. Sylvan Young of The Salvation Army.

"People buy 'em," he said. "They figure they'll just get the converter boxes, and they're all set."

Environmentalists say they are relieved that some of the analog sets are finding their way to resale, rather than clogging landfills nationwide and creating a soup of toxins such as lead to seep into the ground.

Barbara Kyle, national coordinator of the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, however, warned that more TVs will be dumped once all television stations begin digital broadcasting, a changeover once set for Feb. 17 and now scheduled for June 12.

"Once you get past the dates when the switches will be made, we're going to see more unwanted televisions," she said.

Los Angeles city officials plan to hold a press conference Tuesday to remind residents of the digital television conversion and how to dispose properly of old televisions.

So far, Los Angeles city and county public works officials said, landfills are not overflowing with old televisions
nor is there an increase in curbside dumping.

City S.A.F.E. sites - solvents, automotive, flammables, electronics - where electronics can be turned over for free, are seeing an increase in computers and televisions being turned over for proper handling.

"It's gone up dramatically," said Dan Meyers, assistant division manager for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation.

In 2002, the city collected 200,000 pounds of e-waste In 2008, the city collected 3.5 million pounds.

The materials are completely dismantled and separated into plastic, metal, glass, and hazardous materials such as lead, Meyers said.

California is ahead of the game when it comes to recycling electronics. In 2005, a law made it illegal for televisions, computers and other devices to be tossed in the trash.

In addition, consumers pay recyling fees that range from $8.50 to $25 on all electronic purchases.

The law seems to be working: California has paid recyclers for 540 million pounds of computers and televisions, said Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

"We expect to go over 600 million very quickly," he said. "There has been an uptick because of the conversion, but the economy went down so quickly. We expected a 20 percent increase between Jan. 1 and March, but it hasn't materialized."

Recyclers make about 17 cents a pound for goods, down from 24 cents just a year ago. The fear was that goods would be taken to other places, but that hasn't happened, Hughan said.

"Even though the commodities market has been very depressed, everybody's goal is to keep electronics out of the landfills," he said. "We're very pleased there hasn't been a rash of illegal dumping."

Representatives of the electronic industry expect that to continue.

"Environmentalists have portrayed the digital transition as an event of a lot of televisions thrown away, but we're not seeing that," said Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association.

Elsewhere in the nation, a patchwork of recycling laws exists, varying from state to state. Some require manufacturers to pay recycling fees, while other municipalities have bans on dumping in landfills, but provide no or few e-waste sites or events.

Environmentalists and electronics industry officials hope legislation requiring a nationwide e-waste program will be passed in an Obama administration.

"We're looking for a comprehensive e-waste law," Brugge said. "Consumers would be more inclined to recycle if there was just one law for the U.S."

The electronics industry wants to see regulations on international shipping of e-waste to developing nations, where toxins have been found to leach into drinking water, he said.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Russian and US satellites collide

US and Russian communications satellites have collided in space in the first such reported mishap.

A satellite owned by the US company Iridium hit a defunct Russian satellite at high speed nearly 780km (485 miles) over Siberia on Tuesday, Nasa said.

The risk to the International Space Station and a shuttle launch planned for later this month is said to be low.

The impact produced a massive cloud of debris, and the magnitude of the crash is not expected to be clear for weeks.

The reportedly non-operational Russian satellite, weighing 950kg (2,094lb), had been launched in 1993, while the Iridium satellite weighed 560 kg and was launched in 1997.

When two such objects collide with such force, the ensuing debris can destroy other satellites, says the BBC's Andy Gallacher in Florida.

But Nasa said the risk to the ISS and its three astronauts was low as the station orbits the earth some 435km below the course of the collision.

It is hoped that most of the wreckage from the collision will burn up in the earth's atmosphere, our correspondent says.

Hundreds of pieces of wreckage are now being tracked, reports say, adding to the tens of thousands of objects that are routinely tracked through space.

Some 6,000 satellites have been sent into orbit since 1957.
Story from BBC NEWS:


--is almost here

Draft Paper on E-waste Mgmt to be Out Soon

The Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT), in association with Greenpeace and other industry partners,, will shortly come out with a draft green policy asking the government to allow only RoHS-compliant products for safer recycling into India.

RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances) is a European Union standard and restricts the use of specific hazardous materials..

Talking to CXOtoday, Ramapati Kumar, consultant at Greenpeace, the global environmental activist group said, "The industry has been working on the draft over the last 8-9 months and it should be rolled out shortly. We are hoping the government will enforce the legislation at the earliest."

Earlier last year IT products manufacturers had proposed inclusion of a legislation exclusively for e-waste management in the existing solid waste management policy of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. Reports indicate that India generated about 3.8 lakh tonnes of e-waste in 2008 and is going to touch 4.7 lakh tonnes by 2011, therefore there is a great need for an inclusive eco-friendly recycling process.

Presently, only 73% of the branded companies bring in clean products into India while the rest come from unofficial channels into India. The Government of India needs to pass a legislation to stop all unbranded products which are non-ROHS compliant products from coming in.

Even though most countries have passed such a legislation, still a number of companies are pushing non-RoHS products into India because no legislation exists in India, said Kumar.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


eco-wives and others wonder what's going on! Thanks to Rick Maxwell for this--I suggest people also read the full thing and the discussions after it by readers

Article location:
October 13, 2008
Tags: Innovation, Design, Social Responsibility, U.S. Green Building Council
18 Readers Recommended this Article
Green Guru Gone Wrong: William McDonough
By Danielle Sacks

The paparazzi should have been hiding in the hedges that evening. Cindy Crawford, Goldie Hawn, John Mayer, and some 50 other Hollywood and media types were gathered in the Malibu home of one of L.A.'s biggest power brokers, Universal Studios president Ron Meyer, and his wife, Kelly. The guest of honor at this 2005 dinner party: William McDonough. "He is," Kelly Meyer tells me later, "the environmental architect of our time."

One of the so-called Hollywood eco-wives, Meyer had been introduced to McDonough by Cameron Diaz, who had herself met the architect while filming a documentary on renewable energy. On the California evening in question, the Meyers' guests were to be schooled in McDonough's "cradle to cradle" concept, his call for the redesign of design itself. Surrounded by oversize renderings of McDonough's iconic works -- the 10-acre green roof atop Ford Motor Co.'s River Rouge factory, Herman Miller's GreenHouse offices -- the celebs heard firsthand the environmental legend's manifesto for a waste-free world. "He talked about moving this forward without deprivation and self-flagellation," Meyer remembers.

Of all the people McDonough met that night, Gucci's former creative director made the most lasting impression. "One of my favorite moments was meeting Tom Ford," McDonough told me this summer. "I had enough of a conversation with him that I could call him up and say, 'Hey, Tom, remember we met at that dinner? I think it's time for cradle to cradle to move into the fashion industry. Could I get your help with that?' "

McDonough, born in Tokyo, grew up watching his father, a Seagram's president, perfect the art of strategic hobnobbing. And three years later, he is still harvesting the fruit planted that night in Malibu. In July, Meyer and her good friend Laurie David, ex-wife of comedian Larry David, traveled with McDonough to Iceland, where McDonough hosts a getaway every year for guests such as PayPal cofounder Elon Musk and actress Daryl Hannah, who voyage north to dream up solutions to the climate crisis over salmon fishing, wine, and Icelandic pony riding.

The Iceland adventure is McDonough's homespun answer to Richard Branson's gathering at his private Necker Island, which McDonough attended earlier this year -- along with former British prime minister Tony Blair, Google cofounder Larry Page, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. "I have a kind of wonderment when I'm with all these people," he says about the Branson getaway. "Like, I wonder how many fabulous things we could come up with. It's literally wonderful -- full of wonder." For his own iteration, McDonough, who is repped by the Hollywood agency CAA, cherry-picks people he meets throughout the year. "I say, 'You must come to Iceland.' I don't say much more than that," he explains, having also learned from his father the power of the soft sell. The guests pay their own way.

After nearly a week along the Vatnsdalsa River, Laurie David is fired up about making household names of both McDonough and cradle to cradle, his defining idea. "Any time you put people in a room with Bill McDonough, they leave there blown away, their mouths agape," she tells me. "I had a similar feeling when I first met Al Gore." Coming from David, that's quite a statement: The former TV exec helped persuade Gore to turn his apocalyptic slide show into a film and took a producer credit on An Inconvenient Truth. For David and the rest of McDonough's legions of acolytes, he is nothing less than an oracle. "Al Gore helped us figure out the problem," David says, "and I think Bill McDonough has a lot of the answers."

No one has migrated from the fringes of enviro-geek design to the soft spotlight of pop culture as gracefully as McDonough. Long before the word "sustainability" was part of the average CEO's vocabulary -- and before, as McDonough puts it, "LEED [the green building standard] was even a twinkle in somebody's eye" -- he had begun postulating a third industrial revolution, one with the potential to transform how goods are made, cities are built, and literally everything is broken down and reused. His radical cradle-to-cradle philosophy demands that every product be designed for disassembly at the end of its lifetime, either returning harmlessly to the soil or going back into a "closed-loop industrial cycle" to be reused. With mainstream America beginning to see that we may have a planetary problem on our hands, McDonough has come to be seen as both a prophet and a savior. If only it were that simple.

McDonough, 57, now owns or is a partner in four businesses, with cradle to cradle as the common thread: McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) is a materials firm that consults with companies on their products' "cradle to cradleness" and certifies them; his architecture firm, William McDonough + Partners, designs buildings that embody cradle-to-cradle principles; McDonough Consulting manages the designer's personal brand (primarily speaking gigs and corporate consulting); and as a venture partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners (one of the clean-tech Silicon Alley VC firms behind Tesla Motors), McDonough advises on investments with an eye toward producing cradle-to-cradle products.

McDonough has been building this portfolio of businesses, and his credentials as a prophet, for more than half his life. As early as 1985, a mere decade after graduating from Yale during the 1970s energy crisis, he landed on page one of the New York Times business section for designing the Environmental Defense Fund's national headquarters. The Wall Street Journal profiled him a few years later on its front page, highlighting his firm's breakthrough design for a solar-powered skyscraper in Poland (the building was never built, says McDonough, due to the fall of the Communist regime). McDonough really began to solidify his visionary status in 1991, when he met Michael Braungart, a German chemist and former Greenpeace director -- and the key to extending McDonough's environmental design principles beyond architecture. Together, they arrived at the cradle-to-cradle idea, which would soon become synonymous with McDonough. "I remember Michael saying to me one day, 'You've got the ability to carry this message, and you will be really good at it,' " says McDonough, who is known for being as charismatic as he is eloquent.

Braungart introduced McDonough to the mayor of Hannover, Germany, who commissioned him to write a revolutionary manifesto for sustainable design; a few years later, that document helped win the young and relatively inexperienced architect the coveted post of dean of the University of Virginia's School of Architecture. This lofty position gave McDonough the ideal platform for developing his own voice and spreading his message. Despite a thin administrative résumé, McDonough had a vision for remaking the world that seduced nearly everyone he encountered. "Much of the challenge in the environmental movement is to tell compelling stories in a way that is accessible to a broad public," says Maurice Cox, an architecture professor at the university who was part of the team that hired McDonough in 1994. "We were struck by his ability to tell a story, to make environmental issues seem to matter. I think there was also an incredible urgency that he communicated."

During McDonough's five years as the "Green Dean," he moved his architecture firm from New York to Charlottesville, Virginia, building environmental landmarks such as Gap's corporate campus and Nike's European headquarters. He and Braungart opened MBDC, the materials-research firm, to build a database of "all chemicals used by humans," step one in constructing the commercial platform for their cradle-to-cradle idea. By this point, few would have guessed that McDonough was once a shy kid who had cycled through 19 different schools before he was 18, or that he'd learned his hypnotic oratory by studying a book called The Art of Memory, which chronicles how Roman senators gave gripping three-hour speeches that brought audiences to their knees. He became a regular on the university speaking circuit and cultivated a passionate corporate following, including Herman Miller and Steelcase. At the same time, his day job at UVA was slipping through the cracks. "It was busy and difficult for him to manage," says Judith Kinnard, who became chair of the department during his tenure. "I think Bill was focused more on the big picture than the details of integrating his ideas into the school." McDonough left in 1999.

Now a former academic, an architect, a materials expert, a corporate consultant, and an eco-evangelist, by 2002 McDonough had become the face of sustainable design. That year, he and Braungart published Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. It was ghostwritten by a poet, and in its wake, McDonough was named a Fast Company Master of Design and ordained by Wired as the "Prophet of Bloom." Soon enough, it wasn't just companies wanting to pair up with McDonough, it was entire countries, including China. He currently serves as cochair of the China -- U.S. Center for Sustainable Development, as a member of GE's Ecomagination board, and as chair of the Future of Sustainable Construction for the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He is a board member of Prince Charles's business and the environment program, as well as the recipient of the Presidential Award for Sustainable Development and a National Design Award. He was Esquire's 2005 "Big Thinker of the Year" and one of Time's "Heroes for the Planet."

Today, McDonough charges some $50,000 a speech. He's a regular at thought-leadership conferences like TED, the Clinton Global Initiative, and Google Zeitgeist, where he networks with entrepreneurs and politicians, cementing his role in history. He and Brad Pitt cofounded a New Orleans nonprofit and are recruiting architects to help rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward. In May, Vanity Fair, in an adulatory seven-page profile, crowned him "a prophet of the sustainability and clean-technology movements."

"This is how my life works," McDonough says, aglow at his good fortune.

Charlottesville is no Hollywood, no Davos, not even an Iceland. Although the Green Dean is no more, McDonough still calls the small college town home. Housed in a lemon-yellow building that looks more dentist office than toxicity-testing chamber, MBDC is marked by a laminated computer printout tacked to the door. A few blocks away, I meet McDonough at McDonough Consulting, upstairs from his architecture firm, which is now working with NASA to build an office that "operates like an organism" and with Google to make its Mountain View, California, Googleplex more sustainable. As he walks toward me dressed in his signature all-black ensemble, he has a vaporous quality about him, like a mirage coalescing on the spot. The grin on his face recalls what others have told me: You are honored to be in his presence -- and he knows it.

McDonough waves me over toward a wall adorned with a few framed photos, including one of him shaking hands with a Chinese official. "If you gave her a cigarette and shaved her head, she would look just like her dad," he laughs. The official is Deng Nan, Deng Xiaoping's daughter and McDonough's cochair at the China -- U.S. Center for Sustainable Development. In the photo, as he has told many packed conference halls, Deng Nan had just signed a memorandum for China to adopt cradle to cradle. Then McDonough points to a rendering he created of an ecologically correct Chinese city. It is a utopian image of a skyline that looks more like a sugarcane field, he says, with lush foliage in place of conventional roofs. A mother and son are farming on one. "That's what's so great about having an architecture firm," he says. "We can render ideas visible -- it's really fun."

McDonough's office is accented with his own creations: Herman Miller's first cradle-to-cradle-certified chair, the Mirra; Shaw Industries' PVC-free EcoWorx "A Walk in the Garden" carpet; Steelcase's 100% biodegradable nontoxic Climatex fabric. "If you look at most of the people in the environmental movement who talk about the environment, they're telling other people's stories," he says. But what's so compelling about his stories, he adds, is that "I actually create the stories by doing the work. I am telling my own stories." He cites Oberlin College's Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies -- "a building like a tree" -- as a quintessential example. "I made this building. It creates more energy than it needs to operate. That's a great story!" McDonough knows that the more his stories are retold, the more permanent they become.

As someone who believes that "commerce is the engine of change," as he puts it, McDonough has never confined his ambition to the high plains of principle. The virtue of his cradle-to-cradle idea is that it offers a virtuous result -- infinite abundance with no waste -- through an unabashedly commercial channel, namely manufacturing. If he could establish himself in that chain as the arbiter of clean products, there is no limit to what it might yield -- for everyone. "The faster and larger our business grows," he told me, "the better the world gets."

McDonough has struggled, however, to grow that business. He has dabbled with various models in his hope of making cradle to cradle take off. There was the "Ralph Lauren of sustainability" model, in which McDonough would design product lines and become a multimedia personality (abandoned three years ago, after he realized that "really changing the compass of global society is going to require more than a brand"). Then he and Braungart considered selling MBDC to a larger consultancy, only to realize that would mean handing over the intellectual property, a loss of control he couldn't tolerate. Then there was the nonprofit model, which, McDonough tells me, he has studied and "hasn't worked."

McDonough did begin taking steps several years ago to formalize cradle to cradle as an official certification, essentially a LEED-style rating system for product design. He developed 35 criteria -- from toxicity to renewable power to social fairness -- and began charging companies between $5,000 and $20,000 per certification. Every time he certifies a product, whether as simple as a diaper or as complex as a new office cubicle, he records each of its ingredients' "cradle to cradleness" in a master database. Ultimately, his plan is for the data to become a sort of Human Genome Project for chemicals.

To date, though, he has certified just 160 products -- a good 29,840 short of his stated goal by 2012. "Cradle to cradle's been out for seven or eight years," says Rob Watson, founding chairman of LEED, which is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "But to 99% of people out there, they think it's baby products." Even McDonough concedes his pace hasn't been exactly breakneck: "Our situation is sort of spectacularly incipient," he beams. "We're right at the beginning of the rollout, even though we've been working on this for decades." (A former colleague notes, "Every meeting I've ever had with Bill, he's always on the cusp of blowing out something big. The future is always just around the corner.")

In truth, whenever conversation with McDonough veers from his oft-recited script, his elegant tales begin to fray. His new venture-capital gig with VantagePoint, for example, may eventually be an ideal platform for bringing his world-changing vision to scale, a way to bankroll the design and rollout of cradle-to-cradle products. But for now it seems to be simply a way to make ends meet. "It keeps me from running around making my living by giving miscellaneous speeches to miscellaneous groups," he says. Nor is his 1950s home, the architect tells me after a long awkward pause, a model of sustainability but rather "what I would call a home that's holding my family while I dream about the house that I'd really like to live in." His entire suburban lifestyle bears little resemblance to the eco-perfect world he describes from the stage. "I shop at Whole Foods, that kind of stuff," he says.

McDonough is not above poetic license. When I ask him which building marked the genesis of the sustainable-design movement, he points to the office he designed for the Environmental Defense Fund. "It was the first green office in the U.S.," he says. Harrison S. Fraker Jr., dean of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley, demurs: "Sustainable design started long before McDonough even opened his office... . McDonough gets credit for everything because he is such a good promoter of all the good things he has done... . I hate to see false myths perpetuated." Even the term cradle to cradle, for which McDonough has applied for a trademark, isn't his at all. According to Hunter Lovins, cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Institute think tank, "Walter Stahel in Switzerland actually coined the phrase 25 years ago, long before Bill started using it."

For those who came to know McDonough from within the environmental and design movements -- those whose labors rarely reach the ears of Laurie David -- an alternative narrative exists about him. Until now, it has been shielded from the mainstream for two reasons: First, McDonough has done more than most to popularize the very idea of cleaning up the world, and for that, even his detractors agree he deserves thanks; second, if word gets out that he may not be all that he appears, the overall cause of sustainability could suffer. "He's been incredibly important and valuable in this role as visionary," says Auden Schendler, executive director of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co. "The problem is that sometimes the theorists like McDonough will represent themselves as practitioners, and that's where the guys in the trenches get frustrated."

The carpet company Interface was in the trenches far earlier than most. Way back in 1995, it decided to pull together an Eco Dream Team of the most influential thinkers on the environment who believed business could be a force of change; it included Lovins and her Rocky Mountain Institute cofounder (and then-husband) Amory Lovins, Smith & Hawken cofounder Paul Hawken, and McDonough, then the new dean of UVA's architecture school. The group was hired to advise on Interface's environmental transformation, which included recycling -- a radical move in a famously dirty industry. At the time, Hunter Lovins says, "Bill was trying to gain the reputation as the thought leader in this field, going around trademarking terms." (McDonough has applied for more than a dozen trademarks, including "triple top line" and "ride the wind.") And when Interface was preparing to go to market, "Bill presented a business plan that said he owned the rights," says John Picard, an environmental consultant on the team, "like it was his intellectual property. He was asking for an obscene amount [of money]." Says Picard of the unfortunate falling-out McDonough eventually had with the company: "The issue is that some of the things he thinks he originated no one owns. These are things that need to be blown up, not sequestered down with a patent." Interface went on to develop its recyclable carpet, now a nearly $1 billion business, without McDonough. The company confirmed the accuracy of Picard's account. "I don't remember that," McDonough says now.

The Interface implosion cost McDonough an early and prominent chance to demonstrate his world-changing model -- and to become first mover in the market for cradle-to-cradle products. (Nearly a decade later, he went on to work with Interface competitor Shaw Industries.) It wasn't the last time he would cannibalize his own potential. As McDonough's reputation grew, he earned access to higher-profile companies. When Nike, the largest athletic company in the world, decided to hire him in 1999, McDonough was handed an incredible opportunity to make his ideas a global reality. He was suddenly designing "the protocol for the material for a shoe," he tells me, and developing a list of chemicals that would render Nike's footwear and apparel environmentally sound and toxin free.

McDonough, who includes a Nike shoe in his standard slide show, recalls the period fondly. "The great thing about working with Nike was it had tremendous interest in communicating with its supply chain, and it took cradle-to-cradle ideas to heart and developed its own strategy for communicating across an immense supply chain, over 3,000 vendors," he tells me. "Incredible. It inspired us. A lot of what we do today is inspired by our clients."

Working with Nike "inspired us," says McDonough. The folks at Nike remember the collaboration a little differently.

The folks at Nike remember the collaboration a little differently. "It was devastating that we couldn't go forward with it," says someone who worked closely on the project and requested anonymity. When McDonough's team finished building a list of approved materials for manufacturing, after two years and a hefty consulting fee, Nike told McDonough the time had come to share the details with its thousands of vendors. To the company's shock, McDonough responded that he owned the list -- it was proprietary. "He wanted to charge us for every supplier we rolled it out to. We didn't own it after we paid all this money, which made no sense," says the person from the Nike team. "You can develop lists until you're blue in the face, but if you don't have effective ways to roll that out to the supply chain, it's not going to change it." Nike, which went on to improve its supply chain independently, confirmed this account to Fast Company and said that, given the huge amount McDonough was demanding, it decided to terminate the relationship. The company adds that "neither Bill nor MBDC designed materials for Nike." McDonough says he doesn't recall this episode, either.

Then there is McDonough's "great story" about Oberlin College and his "building like a tree." McDonough's stunning Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies facility was completed in 2000; by the next year, actress Susan Sarandon, in a voice-over for The Next Industrial Revolution, a documentary on McDonough, was describing how "the building produces more energy than it consumes," a claim echoed later that year in a Metropolis magazine profile on the architect. Four years later, in a 2005 TED conference speech, McDonough was still highlighting his own achievement, telling conferees, "Here's a building at Oberlin College we designed that makes more energy than it needs to operate." However, John H. Scofield, an Oberlin physics professor who has taught in the building, began monitoring its energy use when it was completed in 2000. He calculated that it was consuming more than twice the energy projected and drawing 84% of its power from local power plants, rather than renewable sources. "We should sue William McDonough + Partners," Scofield told The Oberlin Review in 2002 (he is not a spokesperson for the university).

The ambitious design McDonough had proposed for Oberlin was significantly over budget -- and had a number of engineering flaws -- and had to be scaled back. In a 2002 Environmental Building News article about the controversy, Scofield is quoted as saying, "Even after changed plans went into construction, McDonough and others were using 1997 modeling data in their claims about the project. It won awards based on those claims!" David Orr, former chair of Oberlin's environmental-studies program, concedes that the award-winning building didn't become a "net energy exporter" until 2006, after the school funded a $1 million upgrade of the solar-power supply. Orr says Oberlin never claimed the building would achieve its goals immediately -- "You have to avoid overpromising what you can't deliver" -- but that didn't prevent McDonough from inserting the story into his globe-trotting sermons.

The Oberlin case is part of a larger pattern, some of his former colleagues say. "McDonough doesn't care if the facts are wrong," one told me, "because he's a self-mythologizer. His job in the world is to convince people that a positive future is possible, and it doesn't help his cause to admit there are hiccups and failures along the way."

Inscribed near the entrance of McDonough's architecture firm in Charlottesville is a favorite mantra: design is the first signal of human intention. He repeats it religiously, and for him it means that every object contains clues to whether it was created with the earth in mind. It is one's intention, McDonough believes, that one is judged on.

McDonough's willingness to let good intentions obscure very mixed results appears to have sometimes clouded his own -- and others' -- view of his abilities. In Thomas Friedman's 2006 documentary Addicted to Oil, the Pulitzer Prize -- winning journalist held up McDonough as the kind of problem solver who could wean China from its voracious energy consumption. "Bill invited our film crew to join him in Huangbaiyu [in rural northeast China] to see firsthand how cradle to cradle translates to China," says Friedman in a voice-over, as a herd of cashmere goats ramble by the world-famous architect. As McDonough had been telling countless audiences and reporters, he'd been recruited "to develop protocols for the housing of 400 million people in 12 years," rural Chinese who were to migrate to a series of brand new eco-cities. In the scene, dozens of partially built homes glimmer in the distance, the first glimpse of McDonough's redesign of 21st-century Chinese life. "Chinese officials at the highest level of government are listening to Bill," says Friedman, a few frames later. "And if things go well in this trial village, China, of all places, could become a new model of sustainable development."

When LEED's Rob Watson saw the documentary, he called Friedman immediately. "I was like, 'Tom, you should have talked to me about this before you put it on Discovery!' " says Watson, who has been on the ground in China for the last decade developing green building standards and energy codes. "That just made me blow a gasket, because when that was being filmed, things were starting to go south, and [McDonough] knew it -- they knew it! And they still put it on film! The whole experiment was touted as a success long after it failed. Nobody's living there, nobody moved in. It's sitting there, literally, rotting."

Shannon May smelled the rot firsthand. An anthropology PhD student from UC Berkeley who lived in Huangbaiyu for nearly two years, May first met McDonough in 2005, the year the project broke ground. But within several months, it became apparent to May that everything from the village's overall design to its construction was deeply flawed. The homes were suburban-tract style with garages, despite the fact that only four of the expected 1,400 villagers had cars. The backyards were too small for growing feed corn or raising animals, which the villagers needed to make their living. But most absurd to her eye was the plan to use agricultural waste to fuel the biogas plant to power the village: leftover corncobs and stalks were the winter food supply for the cashmere goats, the area's leading source of cash. Using them meant the goats would starve.

"I started calling Bill and telling him these things, and he would be very responsive and concerned on the phone," says May, the blonde seen standing behind McDonough in Friedman's documentary. "What troubled me was that it was as if he knew nothing about the way these people lived. And he seemed concerned, but then nothing would happen after these phone calls." May says McDonough visited the village only twice while she lived there "for one or two hours at a time, and only when there was a video camera following him." The supposedly $3,500 homes were costing nearly $12,000 to build, more than 10 times the villagers' median income. By 2006, only two families had moved in, and they did so because their previous homes had burned down. Even then, they had to use antiquated heating rigs because the renewable energy systems didn't work.

"It's been deleted as if he's never been part of it," says May, referring to McDonough's and the China -- U.S. Center for Sustainable Development's Web sites, which have been sanitized of all traces of the village. McDonough declined to be interviewed for a PBS Frontline documentary on the disgraced project that ran earlier this year. "It's much more like a cover-up," says May. "He could be such a leader for true world change, such an amazing man. But he's choosing not to be."

"It's been deleted as if he's never been part of it," says May, of the failed China project. "It's much more like a cover-up."

In our first few China discussions, McDonough never mentioned Huangbaiyu -- his most widely publicized and only realized project there. But over the summer, I finally ask him about the village where he'd taken Friedman. "That little village project?" he says, clearly caught off guard. "We've basically come to the conclusion that [China] should let the villagers live where they are." The plans, he explains, consolidated all the farmers into concentrated areas. "What we're saying now, based on our experience in this village, is that that's not a good idea." The homes, he admits, are sitting vacant, but brushes most of the blame onto the developer. "It's sitting there like a lesson," he says vaguely. "A lesson for all of us."

Two months later, during one of our last talks, McDonough brings up Huangbaiyu on his own. "I had sort of cut you off when you asked about the village and said I didn't want to talk about it. But I'm happy to talk about it," he says quietly. "It's been the process of taking in what we could have done, should have done, wished we had done, didn't get done."

McDonough is vacationing in tony Northeast Harbor, Maine. He has arranged with a friend to swap one of his famous speeches for two weeks in a turn-of-the-century mansion. Fresh from his annual Iceland pilgrimage, he is bursting to tell me about the gift he received from two of his guests. During a bit of whale watching, apparently, John Leggate, the former CIO of BP and a fellow partner at VantagePoint, and Tom Darden, a brownfield developer, had decided that McDonough and Braungart needed a business plan to ramp up cradle to cradle. Back on dry land, they whipped up a 25-page PowerPoint presentation and gave it to their host. "We applauded, jumped up and down, and gave each other hugs," recalls McDonough.

The whole event sounds suspiciously like a business intervention. And McDonough seems to recognize that something has to give. He tells me he's taking the year off from working on the "cult of personality" so he can focus instead on how to make cradle to cradle ubiquitous. "I'm not a hyper entrepreneur business head who wants to get an MBA," he says. "I'm a designer who dreams stuff. I do dreamy stuff. The level of business that I can operate is like running a hardware store."

"I'm a designer who dreams stuff," McDonough says. "The level of business I can operate is like a hardware store."

For those who passionately want to see McDonough's waste-free philosophy take root, that's a serious limitation. Standing before an audience of designers at the 2003 EnvironDesign 7 conference, he announced, "We're launching the GreenBlue program today to give away the cradle-to-cradle protocol freely." That year, Jason Pearson, GreenBlue's first employee, moved from Washington, D.C., to Charlottesville to serve as the organization's director of strategy and development and to bring its mission to life. "Bill had conveyed to me that the revenue stream for GreenBlue was guaranteed through a technology development he was involved with that would generate hundreds of millions of dollars," says Pearson, who had been silent about these events until deciding to talk to Fast Company. Two years later, the technology hadn't "actually materialized into something that was licensable and generating revenue. In the end, there was no guaranteed revenue stream." And in all that time, says Pearson, McDonough had done nothing to make any of the cradle-to-cradle data publicly available, and "I concluded that we were not moving very quickly toward anything that would make change in the world." In 2005, Pearson and his staff pleaded with GreenBlue's board that the nonprofit would be more effective if it "established independence from the founders," he says. "GreenBlue needed to be able to put its head down and focus on a few clear, realistic objectives. Bill is always interested in the newest big idea. We simply could not afford the unpredictability that resulted from his shifting interests." Later that year, McDonough stepped down as chairman.

It wasn't until McDonough left that GreenBlue, specifically its Sustainable Packaging Coalition, took off. The coalition now includes 190 companies -- Procter & Gamble, Kraft, and Starbucks among them -- that are working to develop environmentally sound packaging practices. "Many people still think of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition as a project that has succeeded because of Bill McDonough, which is simply not the case," Pearson stresses. (McDonough had told me, "I launched something called the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.") Indeed, some have argued that the coalition is succeeding despite McDonough: Earlier this year, his materials firm, MBDC, told GreenBlue it would have to license the term cradle to cradle if the nonprofit wanted to use it. "Our respective lawyers went back and forth at substantial cost to GreenBlue," says Pearson, now GreenBlue's executive director, "[but] I don't have the financial resources, nor the strong motivation, to stop them." By 2010, the very nonprofit that McDonough founded will be obliged to use terms such as "green chemistry," "closed-loop material systems," and "industrial ecology" to describe its work. Thanks to McDonough and his lawyers, Pearson says, "we will eliminate the phrase cradle to cradle from any of our materials."

That controlling, even litigious, im-pulse seems to be a recurring theme for McDonough. In 2006, a Dutch TV station ran a documentary on McDonough and the cradle-to-cradle concept, igniting a reaction similar to the one caused by An Inconvenient Truth in the United States. Ever since, local governments have been promoting the idea throughout the Netherlands; in November, a grassroots group threw the first "Let's Cradle Congress." McDonough is reveling in the excitement -- except for the fact that now designers in Holland are proudly claiming to practice cradle-to-cradle design. "We've sent a few polite letters to people," admits Ken Alston, MBDC's CEO, about the unauthorized use of the term. He's hinting that they haven't sued anyone -- yet.

On the back deck of his bartered Maine manse, McDonough is wrestling with a patio umbrella as if it were a python. In his army green shorts -- a jarring departure from his standard bow-tied look -- he's trying to create a little shade. "I think we should take it out," he says, referring to the long wooden pole set into the glass table. Soon, all I can see are his bare legs from the knees down. He looks like he's trapped in a teepee.

McDonough desperately needs to break the logjam that has stalled him. Just as the global fixation on sustainability is exploding, McDonough's design revolution is paralyzed -- and he is the paralyzing agent, unable to capitalize on his brilliant, crucial idea, but unwilling to set it free. Last year, Environmental Building News deemed McDonough's cradle-to-cradle certification a "black box": "You can see what's going in and what's going out, but you're not privy to exactly what's going on inside the process," says Nadav Malin, the trade journal's editor. In truth, among MBDC's 160 certifications, virtually the only consumer brands are the U.S. Postal Service and Kiehl's -- the latter of which Brad Pitt helped push through as a charity product for his foundation. Critics argue that McDonough's work is not transparent or consensus based, and that because he sometimes consults for companies whose products he's also certifying, the whole endeavor is conflicted, if not unethical. "All the money stays in one place," says Tim Cole, director of environmental initiatives and product development at Forbo Flooring, and treasurer of the USGBC. The impression that emerges, says Cole, is, " 'Hey, if you want your product certified cradle to cradle, just go to McDonough, pay your price, and it will happen.' I think cradle to cradle will either have to get better or become a thing of the past. You have to evolve with the movement."

McDonough is trying. His latest strategy involves, once again, opening up the work to the public -- this time to develop MBDC's materials database Wiki-style. Instead of MBDC assessing each chemical itself, it would partner with design firms, companies, and universities around the world. Anyone, anywhere would be able to upload assessments of chemicals -- with McDonough the lone gatekeeper for certifying products. At the same time, through VantagePoint, he plans on identifying startups that would make cradle-to-cradle goods that could in theory be sold at scale to one of the firm's strategic partners, like DuPont. He has a long way to go: VantagePoint tells me that in the four years McDonough has been working at the firm, there are "no examples of that happening" and no products in the pipeline.

Despite the many accolades McDonough has received in the media, he and his ideas are being left behind. Companies such as Forbo, Knoll, and Milliken Carpet are starting to reject cradle to cradle in favor of a new transparent certification called SMaRT, administered by a nonprofit coalition of government, companies, and environmental groups.

Back on the deck, McDonough is huffing beneath the hunter-green canvas. "I'm sure this has something to do with it," he pants, trying to lock the umbrella in place. "We need my son to come down and help us figure this out." The architect tells me his 13-year-old is quite adept at putting things together and taking them apart.

McDonough continues to scare off the very forces that could bring his idea to life. One corporate sustainability chief, who asked not to be named, says that when McDonough pitched his company to consult, the architect said, " 'I want to be the Bill Gates of sustainability,' and [that] he wants to make a royalty off of every green standard and every green product out there." The company saw the statements as a red flag and decided not to bring him on board. "There are people in organizations who have passed him by today. Bill is not the leading expert he was at one time." For his part, Aspen's Schendler says he knows more than 100 sustainability executives and "sometimes when McDonough's name gets brought up, there's a groan." But it is Picard, who worked with McDonough at Interface, who shares the most ominous evidence that McDonough's moment is receding: "I was with a group at MIT [in May] with influential billionaires in the room. One person said, 'Why aren't we working with Bill?' Three people out of the eight had had dealings with Bill, and they were not favorable," says Picard. "They were adamant that they did not want to work with him."

Sweaty and breathless, McDonough finally flips the umbrella upside down onto the deck. "Snap this until it snaps into that," he instructs me, pointing to a wooden lever. He is crouching over as if he were inspecting some kind of beached specimen, his hair like a tuft of grass atop a windswept rock. It's hard not to wonder, even with Al Gore's Hollywood engine behind him, whether this is really the man to lead the next industrial revolution. Or whether, as McDonough says, rising with a gasp, "there's an easier way to do this."

Monday, February 9, 2009



Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Call for Papers
Network Ecologies: The Ethics of Waste in the Information Society

Call for Papers for Vol. 11 (08/2009)
by Soenke Zehle, Matthias Feilhauer

* Deadline for extended abstracts: May 1, 2009
* Notification of acceptance to authors: May 15, 2009
* Deadline for full articles: July 15, 2009
* Deadline for revised articles: August 15, 2009
* Publication: August, 2009

The (emergent) transnational network of organizing around environmental and social justice issues in the global networks of electronics production is arguably the most vital area of 'network culture' when it comes to broader ecopolitical concerns. Given the fetishization of dematerialization-through-technology of an earlier generation of cyberlibertarian theorizing, we consider these efforts to have significance beyond the already broad array of issues related to the toxicity of computers and its implications to workers, users, and the environment.

The contemporary environmental justice movement has already (and successfully) criticized conceptual frameworks that consider environmentalism a post-materialist luxury rather than a matter of survival, and made visible the 'colonialism' of a wilderness tradition that had underwritten territorial expansion across the US and in other parts of the world. Yet while its organizational dynamic already involves questions of historical and political epistemology, few people look to ecopolitics as a vehicle to advance broader causes of (cultural, economic, political, social) justice. Which is why, for this issue of IRIE, we would like to invite suggestions on how our new (and old) networking machines might become the pragmata of a new ecopolitics, true "matters of concern" (Bruno Latour) of info-ethical reflection.

With this issue, IRIE, dedicated to the development of information ethics as reflexive practice and conceptual horizon, aims to engage the broad range of materialities involved in acts and processes of communication, information, and knowledge production. This includes, but is not limited to, the very instruments we employ, use, and discard in ever-shorter cycles of consumption, outpacing our efforts to develop appropriate mechanisms of disposal and recycling : from old television sets to LCD and plasma displays, from old disk drives to flash cards and RFID chips. Used locally, but designed, produced, and discarded across the world, the usage of these instruments - things - raises a host of questions whose technical and political questions are increasingly being explored, but whose info-ethical dimensions deserve greater attention as they may requires us to revisit cherished assumptions regarding the scope and desirability of information-societal developments as we know them.

Electronics activism has already defined an agenda of environmental and social justice, drawing on number of perspectives such as environmental debt, environmental and resource rights, political and social ecology, resource efficiency, and occupational health and safety. In addition to giving rise to concrete initiatives in the areas of fair production, procurement, and disposal, these activisms also encourage a re-appropriation of notion of sustainability. Since the UN 'Earth Summit' in 1992, sustainability has featured prominently in policy initiatives. And while for some, it has been discredited by its vagueness and widespread subordination to corporate visions of self-regulation it might be revitalized to refer to the outcomes of (inevitable) ecological distribution conflicts, encouraging ecopolitics to venture beyond consensus-oriented paradigms of environmental governance. Such broader ecopolitical perspectives (or network ecologies, the term we would like to suggest as an umbrella concept) can serve as an integrative idiom to combine important vectors of inquiry that open up more general descriptions of the contemporary conjuncture.

We therefore invite contributors to reflect on the question of a 'sustainable' information society from within an ecopolitical, info-ethical horizon. Suggested topics include:

* No single injunction to reuse or recycle will resonate across all net.cultures. What role do questions of translation, inter- and transculturality play in the articulation of new ecopolitical perspectives?
* Can info-ethics avoid the conceptual dead-end of a culture/nature divide in its exploration of a politics of nature by way of engaging process-oriented, procedural perspectives on political ecology? If so, how does it address questions of agency and accountability?
* What is the link between such network ecologies and aesthetic regimes, from postcolonial analysis of how 'we' have looked at nature to artists developing an ecopolitical aesthetics of disappearance?
* What role might the open, decentralized creation of hard- and software play in the creation of sustainable ICT infrastructures?
* The transnational networks of design, production, and disposal involve large numbers of migrant workers, often concentrated in export-orientated economic zones partially exempt from national (environmental, social) regulation. What role do questions of labor and the transformation of sovereignty play in the articulation of new ecopolitical perspectives?
* What role do ICTs play in other ecopolitical controversies (climate change, water, food security)?


* Greenpeace. Chemical contamination at e-waste recycling and disposal sites in Accra and Korforidua, Ghana. 2008.
* Grossmann, Elizabeth. High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health. Washington et al: Island Press, 2006.
* Latour, Bruno, and Peter Weibel, eds. Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005.
* Latour, Bruno. Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004.
* Pellow, David Naguib. The Silicon Valley of Dreams: Environmental Injustice, Immigrant Workers, and the High-Tech Global Economy. New York: New York University Press, 2003.
* Smith, Ted, et al., eds. Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Elec-tronics Industry. Philadelphia: Temple U niversity Press, 2006.
* Stengers, Isabelle. "Un engagement pour le possible." Cosmopolitiques 1 (Juin 2002). 27-36.
* UNEP-Vital-Graphics. Vital Waste Graphics. E-Waste - The great e-waste recycling debate. October 2004.
* Schauer, Thomas, Markus Neuvonen, Matti Penttilae, eds. Information Technology, Competitiveness and the Environment.
* Schauer, Thomas. The Sustainable Information Society - Vision and Risiks.


* Good Electronics Network
* Taiwan Environmental Action Network
* Toxics Link
* Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition
* Basel Action Network

Abstracts and Submissions
Potential authors must provide an extended abstract (max. 1500 words) by May 1, 2009. Abstracts may be submitted in the native language of the author though an English translation of this abstract must be included if the chosen language is not English. IRIE will publish articles in English, French, German, Portuguese or Spanish. The author(s) of contributions in French, Portuguese, or Spanish must nominate at least two potential peer reviewers. Abstracts will be evaluated by the guest editors. The authors will be informed of acceptance or rejection by May 15, 2009. Deadline for the final article (usually ca. 3.000 words or 20.000 characters including blanks) is July 15, 2009. All submissions will be subject to peer review. Therefore the acceptance of an extended abstract does not imply the publication of the final text (August 2009) unless the article has passed the peer review. For more information about the journal see:

Soenke Zehle:, Matthias Feilhauer

Monday, February 2, 2009


Calif. Weighs Tough TV Set Energy Standards
Associated Press, Jan 30 2009, 6:40 AM ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Visit any electronics store and it's clear that flat-screen TVs are among their best sellers — and that they hope consumers continue a years-long tradition of upgrading their home entertainment systems for the Super Bowl.

Many large TVs are energy hogs, however, and California regulators want to get the biggest offenders off store shelves.
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The California Energy Commission is expected to adopt rules this summer requiring retailers by 2011 to sell only TVs that meet guidelines of the federal Energy Star program, which is generally voluntary. The proposal includes labeling that tells California buyers how much of their utility bill goes to powering their flat-screen.

"That's one of the things nobody even talks about," said Doug Pongrazc, a chef who was shopping for a flat-screen TV recently at a Best Buy store in the Sacramento area. "How much electricity do these things suck up?"

TV dealers are warning that consumers will simply buy their sets online if they can't find the models they want in California stores. The rules would be the country's first mandatory energy standards for televisions and would further tighten in 2013.

California utilities and environmental groups say the rules will play a key role in reducing electricity use as consumers buy larger TVs and bars and restaurants install more flat-screens to draw customers.Serving a population of nearly 38 million, California's uneven energy supplies often result in threats of blackouts on the hottest days.

"In the old days, it was easy to look around the house and see that a refrigerator was the dominant guzzler," said Art Rosenfeld, a California energy commissioner who pioneered the state's appliance standards in the early 1970s. "TVs alone are now 10 percent of a household's use."

Including cable boxes, game consoles, speakers, DVD players and digital video recorders, a premium entertainment system can consume nearly $200 worth of electricity each year, according to the energy commission, though most households pay much less. The average cost of powering a single TV for a year ranges from $35 to $75, said Adam Gottlieb, a spokesman for the Energy Commission.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., California's largest utility and a major backer of the standards, says home electronics ought be part of the state's energy conservation efforts.

"We want people to have the entertainment they want, the kind of things that make life better, but there's a way to do it smartly," said Duane Larson, director of customer energy efficiency at PG&E. "It's much more cost-efficient to have (companies) make energy-efficient products than it is to site and build power plants that will also have environmental impacts."

The average plasma TV uses more than three times as much energy as an old cathode-ray tube set, and a 48-inch plasma TV can draw more power than a large refrigerator — even if the set is used only a few hours a day, California regulators said.

Liquid-crystal display, or LCD, TVs guzzle a little less — about 43 percent more energy than tube sets, according to a study by PG&E. LCDs now account for about 90 percent of the 4 million TVs sold in California annually.

Rear-projection TVs, which fall between LCDs and plasmas in energy use, also would be covered by the new standards.

Retailers and manufacturers say many newer flat-screen TVs use less power than tube sets, noting that 100 available models already go beyond the standards California wants to reach by 2013. The problem is that the best-quality screens use the most electricity.

Industry leaders also say the proposed standards threaten to limit consumer choice, drive shoppers to the Internet and put specialty retailers out of business. Nearly a quarter of all flat-screen TVs — and all but one plasma TV on the market today — would not be allowed for sale in California once the rules are fully implemented, according to the Plasma Display Coalition.

"It's setting a limit that many TVs that are larger and more fully featured could not meet," said Doug Johnson, a technology expert at the Consumer Electronics Association. "It appears to be an effort to really regulate entertainment, not energy use."

Manufacturers say California should stick with voluntary programs. Energy Star, launched for televisions in November, already is driving competition for energy-efficient TVs nationwide, they say.

Independent retailers, who sell mostly high-end, big-screen TVs, say their customers will shop elsewhere if California adopts the TV standards, and industry experts say the state could lose between $87 million and $130 million in annual sales and income tax revenue right away.

"Customers who come in to my store have already done their research," said Leon Soohoo, owner of Paradyme Sound and Vision, a Sacramento electronics retailer. "My fear is if they ban these desirable television sets from the California market, I am out of that business. But yet it doesn't stop the trade because people can still buy on the Internet or from out-of-state retailers."