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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research themes > Products & processes > Clean technologies feature: Life-cycle approach improves electronic waste management
Graphic element Clean technologies feature: Life-cycle approach improves electronic waste management
    09-08-2002
 
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Created in November 1998, the ECOLIFE thematic network has sought to contribute to the mitigation or elimination of priority environmental problems by developing methodologies that could be applied across the electrical, electromechanical and electronic industries. A key to improvement is the use of life-cycle analysis.

The ECOLIFE consortium comprises 21 core partners and a number of additional correspondents, providing a balance of large and small producers, academics and ultimate users from the north and south of Europe. In addition, it has benefited from contacts with other projects in this field: notably European Commission, EUREKA and national programmes dealing with ecodesign or investigating possibilities of re-using and recycling components and materials.

Establishing a hierarchy of waste management options
The philosophy of this extended initiative has been to establish a hierarchy of waste management options in which the primary emphasis is laid on waste prevention, followed by promotion of re-use and recycling, or by conversion to energy, and then by optimisation of final disposal methods for waste that is not recovered.

The plan focuses on four key aspects:

  1. Ecodesign – design and development of products with minimised environmental impact throughout the whole life cycle;
  2. Closing the cycle – investigation and realisation of the steps required for eco-efficient closure of the traditional product life chain, while satisfying quality assurance, legal, logistical, qualification, marketing and communication requirements;
  3. End of life – development of an overall separation system able to sort different products, and definition of an optimal end-of-life strategy for each product group – such as upgrading, reuse, reconditioning, remanufacture, resale, recycling of materials, energy recovery and disposal; and
  4. State-of-the-art continuous updating – collection of all available information on research and technological development.

As a result of the work to date, an extensive ecodesign guidebook featuring numerous case histories is shortly due to be published. In addition, the results of studies into the available options for waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection and processing, plus the organisational and financial implications of obligatory take-back, will be presented on the ECOLIFE website .

Fostering dialogue on end-of-life requirements
Co-ordinator Bernd Kopacek, of the Austrian Society for Systems Engineering and Automation, reports that the network’s well-attended workshops have fostered extensive dialogue between manufacturers and actors in the downstream recycling/disposal chain. This is leading to greater understanding of the need to take end-of-life requirements into consideration during the initial creation of a product. Spanish partners Gaiker and Robotiker have developed component recognition systems based on geometrical and materials characteristics, which would readily permit the segregation of parts from appropriately designed equipment.

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