As we rely increasingly on electronics and technology to bring greater efficiencies into our lives, we are faced with a problematic and complex concern. E-waste, which is old electronics discarded for waste, is piling up in landfills at an estimated rate of 20 to 50 million tons every year. Much of that waste contains heavy metals and chemicals that can leak into our soil, air and water supply.
Another concern is the increase in the amount of energy consumed by the use of electronics. Some of that energy is “phantom power” – the energy consumed by electronics while not in use. Phantom power can amount to more than 40 percent of overall electricity use.
To that end, our Electronics Network is taking a two-pronged approach. The first is to work with our suppliers to reduce the overall energy of products used, as well as to introduce more “auto power down” features on electronics so that they automatically go into standby mode when not being actively used. Our second approach is to inform consumers about the dangers of phantom loads through education and better labeling. Not only will this help our customers save money, it will also reduce these unnecessary emissions.
These are just a few of the challenges the Electronics Network is addressing. Together with our suppliers, we are working to bring our customers more sustainable products and solutions, and to reduce the environmental impact of the electronics industry as a whole.
As we do so, it’s important that we address the entire lifespan of the product – from the chemicals and waste used in production, to packaging, to the way our customers use electronics in their homes and dispose of them.
We began by looking at the production process. Today, we are close to achieving our goal of certifying all personal computers (PCs) and large electronics, such as televisions, as “RoHS-compliant” by the end of 2007. RoHS – or Restriction on Hazardous Substances – is a set of European standards that restricts the amount of hazardous substances in electronics. In fact, Wal-Mart was the first retailer in the United States to offer a RoHS-compliant laptop.
We are also working closely with our suppliers to increase the efficiency of many of the appliances we sell and are encouraging them to get their products ENERGY STAR-certified. We will also be launching an Electronics Scorecard which will gather product information from suppliers on the product’s energy efficiency, durability, packaging and end-of-life solution. Our buyers will be able to use this information to influence their purchasing decisions.
In the United Kingdom, the electronics team at ASDA is undertaking a trial program that is removing “standby buttons” on our private label televisions. Depending on the success of the test program, which is aimed at eliminating this energy-wasting option, we may expand the roll-out to include all private-label televisions by the third quarter of next year.
Corresponding to our philosophy on waste, we are also investing our efforts in electronics recycling. This year, we hosted more than 40 e-waste recycling events where community members in a number of cities across the United States could drop-off their used electronics for proper recycling. During these events, we prevented more than 124,000 pounds of unwanted electronics from being sent to landfills. As we move into 2008, our goal will be to do even more events and eliminate more e-waste next year.
While our efforts represent small steps, they are steps in the right direction. To drive industry-wide change, we will continue working with our suppliers to identify sustainable solutions that can be used at every stage of an electronic product’s life cycle.
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Facts and Figures
Electronics waste is piling up in landfills at an estimated rate of 20 to 50 million tons every year.