Monday, August 30, 2010


This story appeared on Network World at

California files charges against e-waste recycler's execs

The company managers submitted false reimbursement requests to the state, the attorney general alleges

By Grant Gross, IDG News Service
August 26, 2010 11:04 AM ET
Sponsored by:

California Attorney General Edmund Brown Jr. has filed criminal charges against the owner and two managers of a San Jose electronic waste recycling firm, accusing them of submitting US$1 million in fraudulent reimbursement claims for more than 2 million pounds of waste they never recycled.

Two managers at Tung Tai Group were arrested last week, Brown announced late Wednesday. They are John Chen, 38, of Hillsborough, California, and Jason Huang, 65, of Foster City, California. They both posted bail, set at $1 million for each, Brown said in a news release.

Company owner Joseph Chen, 69, of Hillsborough, is in China, and Brown's office is making arrangements for him to return to the U.S. to face the charges, the release said.

"Tung Tai Group attempted to collect $1 million in fraudulent and fictitious state reimbursements for millions of pounds of electronic waste that didn't exist," Brown said in a statement. "This brazen scheme is a violation of state law and the public trust."

Tung Tai Group did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the charges.

The three men face 17 criminal counts for submitting false documents, attempting to defraud the state, forgery and hazardous waste storage and handling violations. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of nine years in prison.

E-waste recyclers in California break down television sets, computer monitors, laptops and other waste collected from businesses and households in California. Recyclers submit claims for reimbursement to the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). On average, CalRecycle pays $0.43 per pound of material recycled.

In late 2008, CalRecycle auditors contacted investigators at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control after noticing discrepancies in the claims submitted by Tung Tai and the records kept by Golden State Records and Recycling, a company that collected and transferred materials to Tung Tai, Brown said in the release.

In July 2009, state agents searched the Tung Tai facility and discovered two separate sets of records, Brown said. Those records showed that Tung Tai had significantly inflated the pounds of recycled material it submitted for reimbursement to CalRecycle between January and September 2008, Brown's office said.

For example, one set of records showed that a collector delivered 62,000 pounds of material to Tung Tai, but forms submitted to CalRecycle for reimbursement listed nearly 555,000 pounds. That change increased Tung Tai's requested reimbursement from the state by more than $235,000, Brown's office said.

Tung Tai also submitted records to CalRecycle listing items that were never delivered to the company by any approved collector of electronic waste, Brown said.

The state did not make payments on inflated requests for reimbursement, which totaled $1 million, Brown said.

John Chen and Huang are scheduled to be arraigned in Santa Clara Superior Court on Sept. 9.


Dell Sets Packaging Bar High For Electronics Industry
by Amanda Wills
Published on August 25th, 2010
No Comments

Technological advances and stringent legislation have made 2010 a big year for the electronics industry.

But despite a high interest in e-waste exportation and the development of sleeker designs that allow for easier recycling, many manufacturers are still skipping over one important detail: packaging.

According to Dell's 2009 Corporate Responsibility report, the company's free consumer recycling program has collected 484 million pounds of equipment since 2006. Photo: Dell's Official Flickr Page
In 2008, Dell announced a plan to revolutionize computer packaging by using recycled content and cutting down on materials – a plan that was expected to result in a significant reduction in carbon emissions and fuel usage related to transportation.

On Tuesday, the company announced that its fervent push towards that goal has proven substantial. Dell has eliminated the use of more than 18.2 million pounds of packaging material since 2008.

To put that into perspective, that’’s the same weight as 226 fully-loaded 18-wheelers or almost 4,184 small pick-ups.

Outlined in its recently released 2009 Corporate Responsibility Report, Dell has increased the amount of recycled content in its packaging by approximately 32 percent.

The company is now 94 percent of the way to achieving its stated goal of increasing recycled content in packaging by 40 percent by 2012.

As an added bonus, more than half (57 percent) of Dell’’s packaging materials can now be conveniently recycled by customers using their local curbside pick-up programs. The company is aiming for that number to be 75 percent by the end of 2012.

According to Oliver Campbell, senior manager of Global Packaging, Dell’s dramatic reduction started with simple changes that allowed for smaller cube packaging, such as putting fewer disks, catalogs, etc.

Dell also used engineering tools to run various “”what if”” scenarios. With these tools, Dell has optimized its Inspiron 15 laptop packaging so that 63 laptops fit on each shipping pallet, up from 54. More laptops on each pallet means more laptops fit into each vehicle, resulting in fewer shipping vehicles and less shipping-related environmental impact.

“•“Establishing these packaging goals has transformed my team from great packaging engineers to inspired environmental champions,”” says Campbell. “The progress we’’ve made has kept a lot of materials out of landfills, made responsible packaging disposal easier for customers and is making Dell a more environmentally responsible company.”

Earlier this year, Dell also released a new line of notebook computers made solely from bamboo as an alternative to plastic casing. This type of packaging can be placed in compost systems, and Dell used the resulting soil from its tests to grow cucumber and sunflower plants.

This isn’t the first time Dell has been ahead of the curve on manufacturer responsibility. ”In 2009, it became the first major computer manufacturer to formally ban the exporting of electronic waste to developing countries.

Currently, the U.S. has no federal law against sending e-waste to dealers overseas, despite existence of the widely accepted Basel Convention, an international treaty which controls the cross-border movement of hazardous waste. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition estimates that the U.S. exports enough e-waste each year to fill 5,126 shipping containers, which when stacked, would reach 8 miles high.


The e-waste land
August 26th, 2010
DC Correspondent
Buzz up!
Tags: e-waste generation, electronic devices, faulty hardware, Must-Read

City spews 30K tonnes of e-waste per annum
The IT revolution in Tamil Nadu, particularly in Chennai, has created an additional burden for the civic authorities. The e-waste generation in the city is on a rise due to the enhanced usage of computers and latest electronic devices and there is no proper scientific mechanism to treat e-waste.
A recent study by the city corporation revealed that Chennai generates about 14,000 tonnes of e-waste from faulty computers and hardware. For the fiscal 2008-09, the waste generated through compact disc (CDs) and tapes was estimated to be around 2,800 tonnes, while mobile phones generated a solid waste of 47 tonnes during this period.
It is approximately estimated that Chennai generates about 30,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. “The city corporation will soon identify a private firm to handle the e-waste generated from Chennai. The corporation council will discuss this issue shortly,” corporation commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said. Only a few private firms handle e-waste and they sell the parts that can be reused. In future, the civic body will also have an e-waste management policy, the commissioner added.
According to Ripon Buildings sources, the treatment of e-waste will be taken up on a scientific basis. The private firm will procure the e-waste from the corporation and after dismantling the electronic structures it can re-sell the products. Besides, some dismantled parts should be segregated and shredded before undergoing special treatment.
The special treatment will also include electromagnetic separation; Eddy current separation and density separation using water has also to be undertaken. The process has to be scientifically dealt with as the ferrous, non-ferrous metals and plastics have to be removed.
The civic body has engaged a private consultant for selection of a private developer for implementing e-waste management. The flourishing Chennai IT industrial belt is one of the electronic hubs of the country producing enormous amounts of e-waste and this waste has to be treated as per the ‘The Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 2003’, the corporation sources added.
With no stringent rules to stop import and dumping of e-waste and municipal garbage in India from abroad, the country seems to be turning into an easy dump yard of rubbish from other countries. This poses a major health hazard to the people.


CEA enhances public private partnership for e-waste management
TUESDAY, 24 AUGUST 2010 00:00
Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is becoming a problem in Sri Lanka with the development and increasing per capita income of the country. Though e-items are playing a big role in our lives when it became waste it can cause many environmental as well as health problems. Therefore the Government and the private sector have taken several steps for e-waste management in the country.

A meeting on e-waste management in Sri Lanka and contribution of stakeholders in the subject was held at the Central Environmental Authority (CEA), Battaramulla, last Thursday, 12 August 2008, with a view of streamlining of e-waste management in the country. The meeting was chaired by Minister of Environment Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

The Secretary to the Ministry of Environment Dr. R. H. S. Samarathunge, the CEA Chairman Charitha Herath, and the Director General of CEA, Ramani Ellepola and some other semi government stakeholders attended the meeting. Mobile phone service providers, e-vendors and licence bearing (for e-waste handling/export) facilitators represented the private sector as stakeholders of the e-waste management in the country.

The Minister said that we both state sector and private sector should join together to manage e-waste properly in the country. He urged that the most practicable way of implementing such a programme is public -private partnership as practiced for the waste mobile phones and accessories collection programme with Dialog Axiata Plc, which is functioning today.

CEA Chairman proposed to enhance the said existing programme towards all mobile phone service providers to set up a heavy collection network with all respective outlets for them.

It was also proposed to form a steering committee with the participation of the public and private sectors for strengthening e-waste management in the country. It was decided to get all stakeholders together under a common logo and a theme for e-waste management, to develop an effective collecting mechanism for selected e items distributed among all outlets of every stakeholder company and to educate and make people aware on technical handling of e-waste and to handover them to collection centres. The CEA will coordinate and facilitate the mechanism in possible ways. It is expected to get the financial facilitation for the programme from the revenue collected through Environmental Conservation Levy.


Nigeria as Dumping Ground for E-waste

By Editorial Board

Nigeria as Dumping Ground for E-waste

Recently, Dr. Ngeri Benebo, Director
General of the National Environmental
Standards and Regulations
Enforcement Agency (NESREA) raised alarm over the health and environmental hazards posed by indiscriminate importation of used electrical/electronics by unscrupulous businessmen into the country. Benebo who spoke at the recently concluded National Conference on ICT and the Nigerian Environment in Lagos identified lack of legislation, weak global and regional response as well as absence of infrastructure for recycling as some of the challenges militating against e-waste control in Nigeria.

Sadly, as far back as February 2008, Greenpeace, a global environmental advocacy group, had in a statement declared that "Nigeria is one of many destinations for the developed world’s toxic e-waste." A flurry of activities designed to meet the damaging revelation head-on were initiated at the time. Benebo told a stakeholders meeting that the Federal Government had initiated a number of actions to combat the scourge of e-waste dumping in the country including the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee on e-waste management to proffer lasting solutions to the problem.

Investigations by Greenpeace also revealed that the problem was traceable to the large influx of second hand electronic/electrical equipment into the country. Benebo then reportedly said "all imports of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEE) that qualify as WEE under the Basel Convention including those identified by the national definitions in Nigeria could be prohibited. Nigeria can impose additional requirements regarding age and packaging in order to ensure that the material sent into the country as second hand electrical/electronic goods are not hazardous wastes."

It is inexcusable that four years after the Basel Action Network, a pressure group that monitors the trade in hazardous waste, published a report which claimed that some 500 containers with 400,000 second-hand computers were unloaded every month in Lagos ports, the government has yet to establish sound legal and regulatory framework capable of putting a stop to the odious practice. Although Article 2(1) of the Basel Convention on the Control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous wastes and their disposal did not give a universal definition of waste by describing it as "substances or objects which are disposed of or are intended to be disposed of or are required to be disposed of by the provisions of national law, Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia proffers a more detailed definition of e-waste as "all secondary computers, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, and other items such as TVs and refrigerators, whether sold, donated, or discarded by their original owners."

Benebo is right in describing e-waste as an emerging hazardous waste issue in Africa with absence of national infrastructure to recycle the materials as well as legislation to regulate the sector. The proposed national policy on e-waste management should fill this gap for Nigeria. It should ensure that the incidence of dumping of e-waste from the developed countries is minimised to the barest minimum if not eradicated. Because millions of computers become obsolete in the developed world every year, the menace of hazardous waste to the African continent remains potent and real. The United Nations Environment Programme estimates that worldwide, 20 million to 50 million tonnes of electronics are discarded each year. Less than 10 per cent gets recycled and half or more ends up overseas. As Western technology becomes cheaper and the latest machine comes to be regarded as a disposable fashion statement, this dumping will only intensify.

Successful implementation of the policy would, however, require the support of Nigerians because the ravishing poverty afflicting a vast majority of the citizenry means that most Nigerians cannot afford brand new products. More importantly, the requisite equipment that can aid detection must be procured while the officials who will be deployed to the borders are also given the necessary training. The world’s waterways are still filled with ships looking to unload toxic waste in vulnerable countries. The latest dimension to dumping of hazardous waste which consists of the dumping of unwanted mobile phones, computers and printers, which contain cadmium, lead, mercury and other poisons means that target countries must ensure that the dangerous wastes are not allowed on their territories.

The public should also be educated on the dangers of burning damaged or disused electronics because improper disposal of e-waste can release hazardous chemicals and heavy metals into the environment, making certain areas toxic.


Sri Lanka to reduce e-waste with private sector assistance

22 AUGUST 2010

By Bandula Sirimanna
Sri Lanka's Central Environmental Authority (CEA) is taking action to manage electronic waste with the assistance of the private sector as this would be a serious problem in the near future, a senior official said.

CEA Chairman Charitha Herath told the Business Times that increasing use of hi-tech products creates more electronic waste in the country leading to many health and environmental hazards. The CEA will launch island-wide e-waste management campaigns and programmes under a common theme and a logo. A committee comprising members of the stakeholder institutions will also be set up for planning the future programmes, Mr Herath said.

The Ministry of Environment is also devising a policy to reduce the creation of e-waste and prevent toxic components, he revealed. “Earlier we were thinking about establishing a dedicating recycling facility but then we understood that the Sri Lankan market is small and so it was not financially viable for the private sector to come in at this point of time," he said.

These decisions were taken at a stakeholder meeting on e-waste management held on August 12 at the CEA, chaired by the Minister of Environment. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa with the participation of the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Chairman CEA and the Director General of the CEA. At present some telecommunication companies have moved on with successful collection systems for used mobile phones while considerable amount of e-waste continues to be recycled in the informal sector.

Almost all of these processes are rudimentary in nature and could be dangerous and toxic. Some processes involve burning, breaking of CRT (Cathode Ray Tube)’s and other chemical and physical processes to recover materials. These result in release of toxic materials to the environment through emissions and effluents and there is also great potential to cause health impacts to the workers involved in these processes, Mr Herath said.

A recent study conducted by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the CEA revealed that the penetration rate of mobile phones reached 40% in 2009 as against the penetration rate of 28% in 2008. According to the annual report of the Central Bank, 2009 usage of mobile phone reached up to 85% on subscriber base. Annual growth rate estimated for the other major e-items include: Personal Computers 8-10%, Printers 5-7%, Televisions 6-8%, Refrigerators 4-6%, Air-Conditioners 4-6%, Photocopy Machines 2-4%, Washing Machines 6-8% and Batteries 4-6%.

Mr Herat said “While there have been some initiatives to set policies and regulations for e-waste management, overall, these hazardous wastes are currently disposed of in a haphazard manner in roadside dump yards as well as in home gardens”. Under this set up the CEA will devise a policy to tackle this problem, he added


EXported e-waste seized by customs officials
PTI, Aug 20, 2010, 05.29pm IST

CHENNAI: More than 120 tonnes of e-waste imported from various countries by different companies in violation of Customs Act and hazardous waste management rules have been seized at the port.

The e-waste shipped here in eight containers were seized by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence officials.

Of the total five consignments, one was from Australia, one from Canada, two from Korea and one from Brunei, a DRI release said.

The subsequent examination of the goods revealed that all the computer monitors, CPUs, processors were very old, used and appeared to be in unusable condition.

A large proportion of the computer monitors were found to be more than ten years old and clearly meant for recycling.

In one of the consignment imported from Brunei by a company it was found to contain 166 used old computer monitors, 89 control panels, electrical motor parts, printers and keyboards.

Cases have been registered against the importers for violations of provisions of the Customs Act 1962 read with hazardous waste (management, handling and transboundary movement) rules 2008.

These goods need to be re-exported back to the country of origin after due process of adjudication.

Read more: Imported e-waste seized by customs officials - Pollution - Environment - Home - The Times of India

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Sacramento Bee

California's pioneering e-waste program a model gone wrong


It seemed a perfect symmetry: California, the world's high-tech capital, would lead the way in recycling the debris of our digital revolution.

But five years after its launch, the state government-run electronic waste program stands out not as a model of the green innovation for which California is famous but as an example of good intentions gone awry.

By paying more than $320 million to collect and recycle computer monitors and televisions, the state has built a magnet for fraud totaling tens of millions of dollars, including illegal material smuggled in from out of state.

"I don't think anybody could have forecast the greed that has poisoned the program," said Bob Erie, chief executive officer of E-World Recyclers north of San Diego and once an enthusiastic supporter of the state effort.

None of the many states that followed California took on e-waste recycling as a government program; instead they made industry responsible for its own waste.

California officials have long been aware of the problems with their approach, too; they met with recycling industry officials two years ago at a private club in Los Angeles to discuss solutions, including whether the state should be in the e-waste business at all.

But nothing has changed. Instead, The Bee found:

• Recyclers and collectors have submitted $23 million in faulty and fraudulent e-waste claims that have been rejected by the state. But state and industry officials estimate that other ineligible claims, totaling as much as $30 million, may have inadvertently been paid.

• More than two dozen e-waste firms have been investigated for fraud by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control over the past two years, but none has been fined or prosecuted.

• Even though California officials know that illegal e-waste is flowing into the state – and acknowledge that public funds are being wasted recycling some of it – no state official has traveled out of state to investigate.

A new California Gold Rush

Truck after truck drops its load of electronic garbage at ECS Refining, one of the state's best-known e-waste recyclers based in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Until it is fed into two ear-piercing shredders, the pyramid of printers, fax machines, keyboards, CD players and telephones serves as a monument to our electronic obsession.

Not far away, some of the heaviest, most hazardous material also piles up: computer monitors and TVs – both of which contain significant amounts of lead. Each year Californians discard about 3.3 million of them, 9,200 a day on average.

Those larger items are the targets of California's e-waste recycling program, which began Jan. 1, 2005. Six million unwanted monitors and TVs that had no value on New Year's Eve turned into green gold overnight.

The goal of the law was to prevent lead-laden glass tubes from winding up in landfills while jump-starting a green industry to collect and recycle the castoffs. At that, it has been a resounding success.

So far some 840 million pounds of monitors and TVs, about 17 million units, have been recycled in California, far more than in any other state.

"It's easy to throw stones, but the hard numbers on what we've recycled as a state are astonishing," said John Shegerian, chief executive officer of Electronic Recyclers International.

His firm, based in Fresno, is the largest monitor and TV recycler in the state. But that distinction bears a footnote: The state has rejected $2.7 million of ERI's claims, mostly in 2008 and 2009, state records show.

"I am not happy about it. I am not proud of it," said Shegerian, blaming tougher state scrutiny of e-waste sources for the denials. "That was a black period. And financially it hurt."

California's electronic waste recycling system could be likened to a gigantic river. At the mouth of the waterway are some 60 recyclers who tear apart TVs and monitors for copper, steel, plastic and other components.

Upstream are more than 500 collectors, who funnel e-waste to recyclers. Farther upstream are handlers – scavengers and peddlers – who round up material to sell to the collectors.

Overseeing the flow are two agencies: CalRecycle, which scrutinizes claims and pays recyclers, and the Department of Toxic Substances Control, which investigates fraud and environmental violations.

Funding it all are state consumers, through an $8 to $25 fee on the purchase of new monitors and televisions.

At the program's inception, with hundreds of millions of dollars in state payments up for grabs, companies seemed to appear out of nowhere.

"It was the second coming of the California Gold Rush," said Erie, the Southern California recycler. "They came from Texas. They came from Pennsylvania. They came from all over the place and said, 'Let's open up in California because the government's paying money.' "

That frenzy caught the state off guard. Faulty and fraudulent claims of $1.9 million the first year climbed to $6.8 million in 2008 and to $9.8 million last year; overall the state has rejected payment on 6.5 percent of all claims – $22.6 million out of $347 million.

Unknown is how many ineligible claims have escaped notice. "If you are going to hold me to a number, add probably another 10 percent for the stuff that got through," said Jeff Mahan, chief of the e-waste fraud unit at the toxic substances control department.

To qualify for payment, recyclers must document that monitors and TVs come from California. But the logbooks they give the state, with names and addresses of the original owners – provided by collectors and handlers who gathered the waste – frequently read like works of fiction.

There are bogus names, made-up addresses, dead people and Hollywood celebrities. And there is brazenness by the truckload.

"I would find Dustin Hoffman's name, Robin Williams' name, Mike Tyson's name. It's just incredible," Mahan said.

Here's what one state official wrote after spot-checking a 2009 claim from SIMS Recycling Solutions headquarters in Roseville seeking $482,000 for 1.2 million pounds of e-waste delivered to its Southern California plant:

"100% of the sources contacted stated they DND (did not discard) … The last names appear to have been looked up in some sort of alphabetical directory … . Patterns of falsehood are obvious in these logs."

That entire $482,000 claim was rejected. In all, the state has turned down $4.5 million in e-waste claims from SIMS, the most in the state.

SIMS has appealed the denials. But its president, Steve Skurnac, acknowledged that his firm should have screened names more carefully.

"The onus is on us to prove that it's qualified material," Skurnac added. "We understand that."

Other surprises emerged as the state learned about the scramble for e-waste on the streets of Los Angeles and San Francisco – and the sources of recyclers' paperwork.

As one claim reviewer wrote after checking with an L.A. handler who sold e-waste to SIMS last year: "Call to Issac with Cal-E. He stated almost all peddlers on logs are illegal aliens who cannot read or write. He reconstructs the logs from their pieces of paper (and) napkins."

Such discoveries, though, typically come months after monitors and televisions have been dismantled and recycled, leaving investigators with more questions than evidence.

"There is really no corpse to look at like with a murder," said Mahan, the e-waste fraud chief. "It's all paperwork."

Buried in the blizzard of payment claims and e-mails lurk enough twists and turns to fill a John Grisham novel – without the convenient conclusions. Chapters end abruptly, stories change, numbers don't add up, recollections collide and cases evaporate.

Shopping spree in Arizona

At midday, small stones along the streets of Tucson, Ariz., glitter like silver and platinum in the hot sun. In recent years, Los Angeles e-waste collector Global Comp One has been active here, buying up thousands of unwanted monitors as if they, too, were precious metals.
"We purchase in quantities of any volume," the company's owner, Allen Baker, wrote in an April 8, 2009, letter soliciting material from Rise Equipment Recycling Center. "I am in Arizona bi-weekly and would welcome an opportunity to meet with you."

A year earlier, state officials had noted that Global Comp One was delivering monitors to Electronics Recyclers in Fresno and ARC International in Los Angeles with paperwork riddled with "disconnected phone numbers, wrong numbers (and) wrong contact names," state records show.

They also had fielded a tip that the collector was buying monitors in Colorado and redeeming them in California.

Though they had documented no wrongdoing, their concern was based on simple economics. In Tucson, for example, computer monitors sell for a dollar apiece, sometimes less, while California recyclers offer e-waste collectors around $8 to $10 apiece.

The state of California, in turn, pays recyclers about $15 to $18, depending on weight, to recycle them – but only if the waste comes from California.

Jeff Hunts, manager of the e-waste payment system at CalRecycle, had forwarded the Colorado tip to Mahan, urging him to take action.

"We need a big win," Hunts wrote.

Mahan had started investigating, but he didn't get far. "All the addresses we had for him, he had moved," Mahan said. "I would certainly like to know where I can get ahold of Mr. Baker."

Baker was not hard to find. The Bee tracked him down by phone recently in Southern California, where he said the state's concerns are well-founded – just not about him.

"The system is fraught with fraud," he said.

Baker said he buys monitors across America to refurbish and sell to buyers in other countries for $3.50 to $12 each. He no longer participates in California's recycling program, he said, but when he did he never intentionally redeemed out-of-state material.

"I'm not saying it's not possible that, because we're doing business intrastate and interstate, that something might have gotten mixed at one time," he said. But the state, Baker said, checked him out and "we were clean … We run a very tight ship."

Mahan said Baker has not been cleared at all. "We still have a lot of interest in talking to him," he said.

Where did monitors go?

Other mysterious cases unfold uncomfortably close to home.
Last December, six piles of used monitors from state agencies sat on pallets in the warehouse near Arco Arena where the state auctions off its own electronic discards.

There were charcoal-black HPs, just 3 years old, milky-white View-Sonics, manufactured in 1997 and a real antique: a Packard Bell, vintage 1989.

No one wanted them – except Farrah Philip, a buyer for KYO Computer, a Bay Area recycler with a history of run-ins with the state, from violations of state environmental regulations to $400,000 in rejected e-waste claims.

But unlike Global Comp in Arizona, KYO paid a premium for the monitors at auction that day – about $14 apiece.

CalRecycle officials were not aware that KYO had attended the auction and, when informed of the price paid, they were mystified. How could KYO make a profit?

Eight days later, The Bee tracked the monitors back to KYO's warehouse in industrial Newark, in southern Alameda County, to see what was up. There, the trail went cold.

As trucks rumbled by outside, Philip insisted the purchase made sense. The state, she said, would pay her 39 cents a pound for the monitors to be recycled, at least $15 each. Even after paying another firm to process the glass, she could make money off the copper and plastic.

And because these monitors obviously were from California, there would be no challenge to her logbooks' veracity. "The state knows this came from them," she said.

Could we see the 108 monitors from Sacramento? That would not be possible, Philip said, because they had already been dismantled, their glass tubes shipped to the nearest glass recycler in Oregon.

In the wake of the auction, CalRecycle has launched an internal audit of KYO to scrutinize its e-waste. In such audits, one scenario the agency must rule out involves shipping working monitors overseas for resale, then backfilling those spots for state recycling reimbursement with out-of-state or other ineligible monitors.

Reached recently at her office, Philip said she was not aware of the audit. Asked again about the December auction purchase, her story changed. She said KYO did lose money on those monitors after all; she had bought them to keep workers busy while searching for cheaper units.

Philip declined to discuss details.

"This is secret, confidential," she said. "We cannot share (with) everybody."

Tough talk, no prosecutions

Recycling fraud was among many topics quietly debated in the summer of 2008, when state and industry officials met in Los Angeles to discuss the program's flaws.

"We need a bill to be introduced that will fix the e-waste program," say official notes of the meeting obtained by The Bee.

Ideas filled the room: better tracking, more transparency, tougher enforcement of fraud, stricter standards for collectors – and shifting the job of recycling to manufacturers.

"Producer responsibility makes more sense," the notes say. "You built it, you take care of it."

Two years later, not much has happened.

"The enforcement is there, but we could do better than what we are doing," said Gary Petersen, a former California Integrated Waste Board member who called the meeting. "There are bad people out there. We've got to make sure those guys get caught."

Mahan, who has tried to catch them for two years, said 26 investigations have been launched. Five were strong enough to forward to criminal investigators in his department; two have been referred to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and the state attorney general's office.

To date, there have been no prosecutions, penalties or fines. But there is plenty of pent-up anger and finger-pointing.

"Clearly DTSC has not made this their priority," said one senior state e-waste official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Why are they not picking up these things and running with them?"

Mahan said part of the problem lies with his department's regulations, which are "geared to enforcing environmental violations, not financial things."

CalRecycle's Hunts counts himself among the frustrated.

"It's tough to get a DA or the AG interested in recycling crime," Hunts said. "It's not sexy. It's not going to get anybody re-elected."

Another case has been referred to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office, according to one state official. But Ken Rosenblatt, a supervising district attorney for environmental protection in Santa Clara, refused to talk about it.

"I'm afraid I just don't have any information on that subject for you," Rosenblatt said.

In lieu of prosecutions, Hunts said the state's most effective strategy has been denying payments on bad claims – a process that has pushed some out of business.

But The Bee found that several companies docked for large volumes of suspect claims remain active.

That includes Tung Tai Group, a San Jose recycler that had 38 percent of its claims – $1.6 million in all – rejected over the past two years and is under investigation by the state.

John Chen, Tung Tai's executive vice president, said his firm fell victim to unscrupulous e-waste collectors: "A lot of it was not having proper logs – not fraudulent logs – and not understanding what our mistakes were."

Chen complained that the state took months to inform his company about problems and rejected many claims for minor paperwork infractions.

Overall, Chen said he believes CalRecycle is improperly denying millions of dollars of legitimate e-waste. Because recyclers pay for the waste months before the state rules on claims, they are the ones who suffer the financial consequences, he said.

Others feel too much attention is devoted to the provenance of e-waste, not enough to the importance of recycling.

Beyond basic ethical concerns, Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said out-of-state waste getting recycled in California is no big deal.

"Frankly I'm glad that there is a recycling opportunity for that waste so that hazardous material isn't getting illegally dumped," Murray said.

Recyclers with good track records, though, are unhappy with the lack of action against scofflaws. Paul Gao, president of California Electronic Asset Recovery, east of Sacramento, has had less than one half of one percent of his claims turned down since 2005.

"We try our best," Gao said. "Why can they not prosecute somebody?"

Part of the problem may lie in the DNA of California's e-waste recycling program, in particular its reliance on tedious after-the-fact verification, and its focus on documenting minute volumes of waste.

"Focusing on fraudulent activities like shipping truckloads of (monitors) in from other states is imperative to keeping our program honest," Gao said.

Instead, he said, the state often insists recyclers track down and produce documentation for just a few monitors at a time.

"The program could be run better," Gao said. "You have to catch these bad guys."

Monday, August 16, 2010


The Producers Guild of America just released, a database of environmentally-friendly products and services from vendors across the United States that is meant to diminish wasteful practices in film and TV production. Take a peek! There are valuable links and downloads

Friday, August 13, 2010


Sunday, August 8, 2010

EPA and Intel

EPA Announces Nation’s Top 50 Green Power Organizations

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has named the 50 green power partners using the most renewable electricity. The Green Power Partnership’s top purchasers use more than 12 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power annually, equivalent to the annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the electricity use of more than 1 million average American homes. Green Power helps to prevent emissions from conventional power sources that are linked to harmful air pollution and climate change.

The top 10 on the list are Intel Corporation, Kohl’s Department Stores, Whole Foods Market, City of Houston, Dell Inc., Johnson & Johnson, Cisco Systems, Inc., commonwealth of Pennsylvania, U.S. Air Force, and the city of Dallas.

Green power is generated from renewable resources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydropower. Green power resources produce electricity with an environmental profile superior to conventional power technologies and produce no net increase to greenhouse gas emissions. Purchases of green power also help accelerate the development of new renewable energy capacity nationwide.

Intel Corporation remains the partnership’s largest single purchaser of green power, using more than 1.4 billion kWh, equivalent to the CO2 emissions from the electricity use of nearly 125,000 average American homes. Washington, D.C. (No. 14), TD Bank, N.A. (No. 15), the state of Illinois (No. 23), Pearson, Inc. (No. 27), Chicago Public Schools (No. 35), and Harris N.A. (No. 42), are all making first-time appearances on the national list. BD (No. 19), a global medical technology company, and the Port of Portland (No. 49), both rose in the rankings by nearly doubling their green power purchases. Nearly a quarter of the top 50 partners have increased their green power purchases since April.

EPA’s Green Power Partnership works with more than 1,200 partner organizations to voluntarily purchase green power to reduce the environmental impacts of conventional electricity use. Overall, EPA’s green power partners are using more than 17 billion kWh of green power annually, equivalent to the CO2 emissions from electricity use of more than 1.5 million average American homes.

Friday, August 6, 2010



4 August 2010 Last updated at 08:04 ET
Europe breaking electronic waste export ban
By Aidan Lewis
BBC News, Rotterdam
Old televisions and computers containing hazardous substances are still being exported from Europe despite a ban aimed at stopping the trade, which poisons workers at makeshift recycling plants in Africa and Asia.
In Rotterdam a Dutch customs officer swings open a heavy metal door to reveal a pile of old televisions stacked tight within a shipping container.
Instead of proceeding to Ivory Coast, these goods will be impounded, checked and most likely sent back to Germany, from where they arrived.
This is the front line of the European effort to stop electronic and electrical equipment, consumed and discarded in ever greater quantities, from being dumped in the developing world.
It is a daunting task.
Rotterdam is Europe's busiest port, a hub for regional shipping. More than nine million six-metre (20ft) containers or their equivalent pass through each year.
Just one-third of those carrying goods for export are from the Netherlands, with most coming from the EU's other 26 states, including the UK and southern Europe.
Customs officials select suspect shipments through risk profiling, sorting through a list of indicators including the container's sender and its destination.
'One step behind'
But even though the Dutch have led the way in cracking down on illegal e-waste exports - the European Union banned the trade in the mid-1990s - only 3% or so of the containers in Rotterdam are checked. In an average week one shipment may be caught, which could mean several containers holding 800 monitors each.
An unknown number of containers slip through, or are directed to European ports with fewer controls.
"Risk profiles are always based on what happened before and you're actually often one step behind," says Carl Huijbregts of the Dutch environment ministry's inspectorate.
Because this is an illicit trade, there is little data on its scale. But interceptions in Europe and anecdotal evidence from destination states suggest it is flourishing.
"We have an extraordinary amount of illegal shipment along the coast in Europe", says Karl-Heinz Florenz, a German member of the European Parliament who is working to update EU law.
Traffickers trick the authorities by not labelling goods as electronics, by pretending they are for re-use, or by hiding them in the middle of a container.
The containers that get through are shipped to West Africa - most commonly Ghana and Nigeria - and to South Asian countries including India and Pakistan.
"The fundamental problem with electronics is that it's designed in a very bad way," says Kim Schoppink, a campaigner at the Dutch branch of Greenpeace who travelled to Ghana to look at the issue in 2008.
"That makes it very expensive to recycle in Europe and therefore it's dumped in developing countries."
The e-waste contains valuable metals, which are extracted at informal recycling sites.
But it also contains toxic heavy metals and hazardous chemicals that are handled by workers, some of them children.
"They take some copper and aluminium and the rest they burn," says Ms Schoppink.
"With this burning process a lot of toxic chemicals are released and these workers are exposed to that every day."
Concerns about industrial dumping in the developing world led to the 1989 Basel Convention on international movements of hazardous waste.
In 1994 the European Community adopted the convention, which bans the export of hazardous waste to anywhere outside the OECD grouping of mostly developed countries.
It is meant to complement EU rules encouraging the collection and recycling of e-waste within Europe according to fixed environmental standards.
But by the EU's own admission, its rules are only partially effective. Just one-third of e-waste is thought to be treated in line with the bloc's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive.
'Fundamental issue'
The rest enters a "hidden flow" fed by offices, municipal waste collection points, and shops that take back goods under guarantee, and part of that flow is illegally exported.
"It really has become the crisis issue of the whole Basel Convention," says Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, pointing to the e-waste generated as people buy flat-screen TVs and switch to digital. "It is really the fundamental, number one issue."
He says the US, which has not ratified the Basel Convention, is "way behind" Europe on e-waste, and estimates that as much as 80% of American e-waste is exported, much of it to China through the port of Hong Kong.
In Europe, some countries have a better record than others in applying the directive and trying to stop illegal exports, with southern EU states lagging behind.
But even where officials try to enforce the rules, there are challenges. These include distinguishing between second-hand goods - which are legal to export - and e-waste, and the fact that collection and recycling targets are out of line with the growing amount of electronics generated.
"We have 27 European member states but there are more than 100 collection systems and every system has another weak spot," says Mr Huijbregts.
There are plenty of opportunities for the brokers involved in illegal e-waste trafficking to siphon off e-waste.
"You don't need a truck, you don't need a crane, you don't need a digger," says Mr Florenz. "You only need an office, some connections, and you have to know the regulations and the border and customs."
Alongside environmental damage in the developing world, Mr Florenz has an additional concern - that Europe is buying then losing large quantities of increasingly scarce raw materials contained in e-waste.
And the more these materials fall into the hands of illegal brokers, the tougher it is for companies like Sims Recycling Solutions, which processes much of the e-waste generated in the Netherlands.
There have been e-waste prosecutions in EU states, including the Netherlands and the UK. But observers are worried that they have not produced the kind of penalties that could serve as a deterrent.
"In some countries it can be 200 euros ($260; £165) which, if you look to the profits that they make, is nothing," says Nancy Isarin, an expert on waste shipment with the European environmental network Impel.
"Other countries might have higher fines, but they are never actually implemented."
Beyond tightening controls within the EU, campaigners point to the need to ensure second-hand electronics sent to developing countries for charity are disposed of correctly.
And they flag up broader challenges - getting electronics companies to design greener products and weaning consumers off their electronics habit.
"You have to do everything you can to enforce the laws you have in place and make people pay the costs of what they're doing," says Mr Puckett. "And that ultimately is a really good thing as it drives greener production."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Kenyan Situation

Africa Review|The East African|Daily Nation|NTV|NTV Uganda|Daily Monitor|The Citizen|N-Soko
August 4, 2010

Kenya comes face-to-face with ICT waste

The Ministry of Information and Communications has started campaigns to reduce dumping of used electronic goods.

By Paul Wafula

Posted Wednesday, August 4 2010 at 00:00
Kenya is courting an environmental disaster from increased electronic scrap (e-waste) unless it quickly sets up rules to curb importation of the products.

The International Telecommunication Union warns that the rate at which electronic waste is growing poses a danger unless manufacturers change direction or governments take a firm stand.

Locally, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has been pushing for measures to educate users on the dark side of ICT growth.

A 2008 study indicated that Kenya generated 3,000 tonnes of electronic waste from computers, monitors and printers in 2007.

Computer for Schools Kenya, an NGO, says e-waste grows at a rate of about four per cent in a year, which is three times higher than the general waste.

The transition to digital TV broadcasting is expected to compound the problem in Africa while concerns have been raised that donations of second-hand computers is pushing Kenya to the edge.

Kenya is at the verge of an ICT revolution that has seen mobile phones selling for as low as Sh1,000.

However, what is worrying environmentalists is where the old computers, mobile phones, and television sets are taken when new models replace them.

As it is, they end up in landfills or incinerators, meaning that toxic substances like lead, cadmium and mercury used in manufacturing contaminate land, water, and air.

E-waste containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled makes up five per cent of all municipal solid waste worldwide.

In the past 10 years, African governments have been preoccupied more with universal access to telecoms services without paying equal attention to the impact on the environment.

Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio told an ITU meeting that the short lifespan of mobile handsets and desire to keep up with the latest trendy handsets compound the problem.

According to Ms Judith Katona, the representative and counsellor of ITU, Kenya and the continent at large should not allow the growth of the ICT sector to be at the expense of the environment.

“The fruits of our high-tech revolution are pure poison if these products are improperly disposed of at the end of their useful life,” said Ms Katona.

Although there are environmental laws in Kenya that hold to account those generating toxic waste, and with the failure to comply with disposal standards carrying a penalty of Sh500,000 or a prison term of 18 months, Kenya continues to face environmental and health problems due to indiscriminate, unregulated and trade in electronic waste.

However, the government will find it difficult to fight e-waste at a time when it is striving to meet universal access policy objectives that encourage importation of electronic gadgets in the country.

“We are in the process of strengthening the type of approval function within our national regulatory bodies to bar the entry of sub-standard equipment into our markets,” said Mr Poghisio.

The fight against e-waste got another blow after the Finance minister ignored the Ministry of Information’s push for a ban on importation of used computers and encourage local computer assembling.

The ban plan has been strongly opposed by sector players, saying the government should come up with a long-term legal framework to address the issue.

However, the Information PS, Dr Bitange Ndemo, says over the years a number of government incentives have led to dropping of prices of new computers which defeats the need to import used computers whose life span is shorter.

Compared to new computers, whose life span can go for up to eight years depending on use, the second hand versions can take only three years.

“The organisations shipping in used computers are actually being paid to get them out of source countries but are disguising themselves as donors assisting Kenyan schools,” said Dr Ndemo.

On the global scene, some manufacturers have begun to assume greater responsibility for what happens with their products after they become obsolete.

Dell, HP, and Gateway have programmes to collect old computer equipment. But this is yet to take root in Kenya.

The Basel Action Network, an American watchdog that has sought to curb the export of toxic electronic material from the United States, has set up a new certification and auditing programme for recyclers and companies that generate electronic refuse.

Urgent implementation

In addition to outlining safe domestic handling and disposal practices for old television sets, computers and other electronic equipment, the system would effectively ban participating recyclers from exporting toxic, non-functional electronic waste to developing nations.

For over three years now, policy makers have been toiling to craft an e-waste policy as pressure from environmental experts mounts for the Government to issue guidelines on dealing with this phenomenon.

Watchdogs are warning that only urgent implementation of laws and policies will cover Africa from being turned into a dumping ground for electronic goods manufacturers.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Greening Cable

The Greening of Cable
By Brian Santo, Editor-in-Chief - August 01, 2010
Saving energy is one thing, but there has to be an economic payback, and money – some in the cable industry are calling that combination.

Rough estimates are that the cable industry is spending in excess of $1 billion a year on energy. Cable companies might be able to reduce their energy expenses by 10 percent, however, with only minimal effort. A cable company committed to far more than the minimum could cut its energy bill by more than 20 percent, by some accounts. How’s that for opex savings?

Carbon footprints take in more than just energy usage; the source of the energy, for example, can mean that two companies with the same energy consumption might have radically different carbon profiles. For example, hydroelectric has a lower overall carbon impact than coal power. The company buying hydro power would have a lower carbon imprint than the company buying coal power.

Reducing a company’s carbon imprint by more than 20 percent is well within the realm of possibility.

Exactly how, though? Answers are beginning to come. Companies like Cox Communications, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Rogers Communications are exploring several avenues and are sharing their results.

They’re being aided by the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, which is not only encouraging green practices, but is also actively employing them, all in the interest of establishing guidelines, business cases and best practices the entire industry can benefit from.

The three biggest energy expenditures are the transmission network itself and critical facilities, and a distant third is facilities and offices. A big chunk of that third category is vehicles (see Carbon Impact Study).

Headends and central offices, and the networks themselves, suck a lot of power.

“In 2008, Virgin Media was one of the top carbon emitters that was not a utility in the U.K. Why? Because of the energy used in their network,” said Paul Shmotolokha, president of Coppervale, a company that consults with communications companies on energy use. Coppervale did the energy audit for Virgin Media. Since then, Virgin has been actively reducing its carbon footprint.

There are multiple factors in the green equation. Conservation remains one of the weightiest of them. Simply not wasting power can be fairly simple once a company identifies and commits to practices that reduce wasting energy, such as turning off lights where not needed or sealing off unused rooms with outside windows, which are likely to greenhouse when it’s hot and sunny and leak heat when it’s cold.

“There have been tremendous improvements in lighting in just the last three years,” Shmotolokha said. “And not just because of LEDs. It’s the control systems, the fluorescent tubes – everything. Lighting is the quickest and easiest payback – it’s a no-brainer.”

“We’ve got a list; it’s forty or fifty items,” said Jay Rolls, senior vice president of technology development at Cox. The list covers everything from office energy management to fleet management to looking for any energy savings possible in the construction of its new data center in Arizona. “What I’ve learned is that not only can you get payback, but with some things, you can get payback within a year. That’s a beautiful thing from a budget standpoint,” he said.

That’s all fairly straightforward, but the greening of the network itself is still in the initial stages.

Switching and routing equipment, including CMTSs, can consume a lot of energy (and generate a lot of heat), as can servers in data centers and server farms, including VOD libraries.

Energy consumption is being increased as companies move to switched digital video. Taking advantage of the channel-bonding capability can also increase energy consumption in D3 equipment because multiple tuners are now drawing power.

Don’t forget the set-tops. While the energy drawn gets charged against the accounts of subscribers, the vast majority of boxes are still owned by the service provider. Older-model HD DVRs can draw about 25 watts of power, while some newer models draw as little as 3W, Shmotolokha noted.

Shmotolokha said one European client insisted it would not buy set-tops that did not have a standby mode, “and the vendor community responded to that,” he said.

While companies like Cisco and Arris and Juniper are trying to figure out how to minimize power consumption and maximize energy efficiency in switching systems, the big struggle is figuring out how to draw off the tremendous amounts of heat these systems generate in headends and central offices.

Power generation is another major variable – employing photovoltaics (PV), wind energy or geothermal energy to offset what you might otherwise pull from the grid.

Here the SCTE is putting its money where its mouth is, or – as SCTE President and CEO Mark Dzuban puts it – “we’re eating our own dog food.” The organization is installing a 12 kW PV system to power its headquarters in Exton, Pa. The SCTE expects to have a ribbon-cutting ceremony later this month for the system, which will help power its IT systems, including its website.

“All the learning that comes out of that – how do you finance and build something like that – that will all go into a presentation,” Dzuban said.

The problem is that photovoltaic power is still very expensive and still not very efficient, despite years of gradual improvement.

The federal tax incentive is available nationwide. “But if you only have federal incentives, the best you can do is single green,” said John Hewitt, vice president of cable sales at Alpha Technologies. Double green is possible only in those six states that currently have additional incentives for PV projects.

That list includes Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon. The members on that list are likely to change from year to year.

“Does PV work? Yes,” Dzuban said, referring to some megawatt systems Cox Communications installed at some of its Arizona facilities last year. “Cox is running some big systems. Now how do you go from conceptual to the actual nuts and bolts of doing it?”

Rogers, he noted, is using geothermal energy – not for cooling, but for heating.

The SCTE will help compile and share information from Cox, and from Rogers, and from Comcast and Time Warner and others, which it plans to start publishing soon, with the expectation that the volume of what gets published will increase as the industry gains more experience. Dzuban promised a set of specifications and best practices in 2011.

As easy as it is to find double-green opportunities in offices, it’s hard to eke big improvements in power consumption or in power efficiency in critical facilities such as headends, central offices and hubs.

That said, there might be some areas to save in. Just as there are peak hours for energy usage, there are peak hours for network usage.

Communications service providers have large data centers with multiple servers. Maybe they can be managed so that they don’t all have to be up and running, suggested Derek DiGiacomo, director of information services at the SCTE.

“Can devices have sleep modes? Do all servers have to be on at all times? Can they be brought back on quickly? I’ve seen models that show you might get a 50 percent reduction in energy usage simply by using cycling software,” DiGiacomo said.

In general, the equipment draws what it draws. Manufacturers can diminish the sizes of their systems, but while power efficiency might be improved somewhat, the real progress and advantages tend to be in density.

Meanwhile, products from different manufacturers tend to be similar in terms of their energy demands. That said, there are some instances where the differences are actually quite stark.

As mentioned above, switching equipment can draw a lot of power. Alpha powers softswitches from both Nortel and Cedar Point Communications. “Nortel draws double the power,” Hewitt observed.

The outside plant is where other savings might be achieved.

For years, the typical amplifier in use by the cable industry was a 15-amp model. But in recent years, as network architectures evolved and nodes became smaller, the 15-amp product is simply much bigger than necessary.

On average, 80 percent of an HFC network operates at fewer than 10 amps, Hewitt said, yet operators out of habit tend to replace amplifiers with the traditional 15A model, typically operated at their “sweet spot” at about 12A – still more than necessary. They just end up generating heat, he said. “We’re starting to see 50 percent of the network not matching the size of the requirement.” Alpha is now making 3A, 6A, 10A and 15A models “so that when it comes time to replace an amp, you can size it appropriately.”

Is it worth it to swap one piece of equipment for another immediately, be it a switch, a set-top or an amp? Probably not. But if you’re buying new equipment, either for an initial deployment or to replace a system at the end of its normal lifecycle, in addition to looking at features, factoring in the relative power consumption of the competing products is clearly advisable.

Another option is to just eliminate the problem by eliminating components that draw power – go fiber deep, or put in a passive optical network (PON). While either option will save on power, no question, Shmotolokha said the expense of the deployment cannot be justified by the power savings alone.

The key is to start by picking specific goals. Time Warner Cable, for example, decided to start by concentrating on getting efficiencies in its fleet and by reducing its use of paper. (Reusing and recycling paper doesn’t affect energy consumption directly, but it does diminish one’s carbon footprint.)

Long term, Coppervale recommends a plan (and Coppervale can help companies develop such plans) that take into account:

• The network
• Critical facilities
• Offices
• Carbon baselining (doing a carbon audit, which becomes a baseline for a comparison to measure improvement)
• Internal programs (getting employee buy-in)

“Do all five of those, and communicate that to your subscribers, and you can really improve your brand with your customers. And let’s face it,” Shmotolokha said, “some cable companies have a bad image in some markets. This is an opportunity to improve a bad image.”

In the future, even more variables could be introduced to the equation.

First and foremost, energy prices are only going to go up. Peak oil production is about 85 million barrels a day, and one of the factors that drove gas up to $4 a gallon a few years ago was that worldwide demand was at about 84 million barrels a day, Shmotolokha explained.

Now, in a recession that is still being felt the world over, demand is still about 80 million barrels a day. Once world economies perk up again, so will demand for oil (and other forms of energy), and that will only serve to drive costs up again.

“Say you’re a small, $100 million company, and energy prices go up and you end up spending another 5 percent or 10 percent on energy,” Shmotolokha said. “That’s $5 million to $10 million a year – that’s a pretty big line item increase.”

There’s growing interest in the notion of carbon taxes, an additional fee levied on companies that could go up or down based on their carbon footprints. And as noted above, given that communications networks are huge users of power, a carbon tax could be a big hit for communications service providers.

Utilities are also looking at their own version of tiered pricing, based on the nowfamiliar concept of peak usage. “You can see the grid change between 5:30 and 6:30 as electric ovens come on,” Hewitt observed.

It might take five or 10 years, but utilities are going to want to charge more for power consumed during peak periods, an inducement for people to change their behaviors, opting to draw power at other times when the option is available, or, as Hewitt put it, “so maybe you don’t bake a cake at 6:00.”

That’s residential. Business hours are business hours, and that’s unlikely to change. Under those circumstances, installing renewable energy becomes more salient. “A PV system can offset consumption at peak times,” Hewitt said.

This dovetails directly with the Smart Grid approach, but a convergence of communications and utilities interests just isn’t happening yet. “It makes sense for a power company to monitor usage, and MSOs have a high-bandwidth pipe into the house. A meter should just have an Ethernet cable in the back so you can send back the data. You could do it for practically free at this point,” Hewitt said. “I think Smart Grid is going to be an important part of the future.”