It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago few of us knew what a DVD player was, let alone owned one. The format now accounts for about 60 per cent of the rental market, and many filmmakers even go to the trouble of filming behind-the-scenes material especially for the DVD. The promise of ‘extra features’ is only one of the bonuses of DVD players, but the inevitable downside is their contribution to electronic waste.
On a global scale e-waste is increasing at a rate of about 40 million tonnes a year. In both developed and developing nations, people discarding perfectly functioning electronic products to buy the ‘latest’ gadgets has become a very serious issue. To put this in perspective, if our estimated annual electronic waste was put into containers on a train it would stretch once around the world. E-waste now makes up 5 per cent of all municipal solid waste world-wide – nearly as much as is produced from plastic packaging. Unfortunately though, e-waste is much more hazardous.
Electronic devices are made from a complex mixture of up to several hundred materials, many of which contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium. They can also include brominated flame retardants, which have been the subject of a Friends of the Earth campaign following concerns about their potential effect on human health. These chemicals are thought to disrupt the thyroid hormone system and have been linked to behavioural changes in mice.
In addition to the well-publicised problems associated with lead and mercury, all of these substances are hazardous to the people who have to work with them, and can cause serious pollution if not properly disposed of. Companies were given until June 2006 to exclude lead from their products, but the metal will still be found in many appliances that were made before this date.
What can companies do?
Removing toxic chemicals from products such as DVD players reduces pollution and makes re-use and recycling cheaper and less hazardous. Greenpeace (www.greenpeace.org) publishes rankings for the major electronics companies showing the level of toxic chemicals in their products.
Some companies, such as Sony, have made pledges to reduce, substitute and where possible eliminate the use of substances that are potentially damaging to the environment. Environmental groups hope that these commitments will be honoured, and that they will provide an incentive for other companies to follow suit.
Many old electronic goods gather dust in storage waiting to be reused, recycled or thrown away. Due to the level of harmful chemicals in e-waste, appliances such as DVD players must be disposed of carefully, and should only be recycled in controlled conditions.
The dumping of electronic products in landfill sites not only results in the potential leaching of toxic substances into the environment, but causes a net loss of resources. For example, the six million tonnes of electronic waste dumped each year in the UK contains over 600,000 tonnes of copper. If this copper is not re-used, more of the raw material has to be extracted, meaning that extra resources are expended in mining, transport and refinement.
It’s not just the players that need recycling: DVDs and CDs also make a significant contribution to landfill. Unwanted discs can easily be given to charity to be re-sold, or a company called Polymer Reprocessors (www.polymer-reprocessors.co.uk) will happily take them off your hands to be made into anything from burglar alarms to bird feeders. Failing that, they also make very good coasters.
A VHS-style war is shaping up in the DVD world, with new Blu-ray technology set to take on HD-DVD to become the future of home entertainment. With this in mind, anyone thinking of buying one of the next generation of appliances would be advised to wait – just in case their brand new player turns out to be the Betamax of the early 21st century.
Ethical DVD Players Rankings Detailed Table
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We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Sharp, Alba, Bush, Goodmans, Denon, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Hitachi, Sanyo, Samsung, Toshiba
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