Sustainability symposium comes to an end

The Electronics and Sustainability Symposium ended Wednesday with participants gaining knowledge on how different areas of recycling industry and policy will affect their businesses.

The conference ran from Monday evening to Wednesday afternoon, covering various topics on manufacturing, recycling policy and research on electronics.

The conference was hosted by the Sustainable Electronics Initiative and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, both headquartered at the University.

Most of the conference focused on the research needed to find solutions to recycling electronics.

The conference attempted to build a bridge between academia and the electronic industry to see what each side could offer to the other, said Aida Williams, process engineer with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center.

Tim Lindsey, conference chair and associate director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, said he has concerns involving the electronics industry.

“Millions and millions of devices are discarded … and two thirds of them are in working order,” Lindsey said. ”Only fifteen percent of those are recycled. The rest of it ends up in landfills.”

Williams added that the current plan for recycling electronics is faulty.

“We want to make sure we have materials left over to future generations,” Williams said.

Current ways of redistributing electronics are not effective, Lindsey said. He cited an example in which electronics are sent to other countries where the plastic coverings for wires are burned off instead of being reused.

“Sustainability is important because we have to design things that have a full life cycle where we can bring things back in the realm of manufacturing without putting things in landfills and dumping things into third world countries,” said conference participant Tim Goese.

Goese said he valued the academic input at the conference.

“I think there is a lot of collaboration and industry here,” he said. “There are a lot of academics here. We can get their input as well as people from industry and government.”

Karrie Gibson, president of the Vintage Tech Recyclers, Inc., said she hoped to learn something she could apply to her business. Gibson’s business is centered in Plainfield and focuses on keeping electronics out of landfills.

Rajib Adhikary from Dell Computer was Wednesday’s keynote speaker. Adhikary said the computer company plans to sell more services than electronic devices in the future. This would create less electronics and therefore less waste, Lindsey said.

“You don’t need to own a computer,” he said. “You just need the performance of a computer.”

Lindsey said although some politicians view sustainability conferences as “green-washing,” most are supportive.

“We’re talking about opening up new technologies,” Lindsey said. “The only people who benefit from waste are those from waste management.”

He said recycling contributes to new job growth and keeps jobs within borders.

“This conference is focused on the entire system around the electronics industry,“ Lindsey said. “The way products are designed, manufactured, used, the way they are collected for recycling and the way they are redistributed. Too many times we optimize one component of the system without regard of seeing how it affects other parts of the system.”