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issue: December 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

The Lesser of Two Evils

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Editorial from Diane Ritchey, Editor, APPLIANCE Magazine

As outdoor lawn and garden appliances are constant targets of emission standards, especially in the U.S. state of California, the Outdoor Power Equipment Association (OPEI), an Alexandria, VA, U.S.-based trade association representing U.S. manufacturers of such appliances, works with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to ensure that its members' needs are met.

Diane Ritchey, Editor

For the last 2 years, OPEI has worked with CARB to improve proposed catalyst-based Tier III exhaust standards for wheeled products, along with new evaporative emission regulations based on the use of carbon canisters and/or sealed fuel tanks as well as less-permeable fuel tank materials and fuel lines.

In August, CARB's staff issued a proposed regulation that would have required wheeled products to include high-efficiency/high-heat generating catalysts in order to meet exhaust standards that OPEI says were 50-percent more stringent than the current Tier II standards. CARB's first proposal would also have required all lawn and garden appliances to be subject to shed-based performance testing to demonstrate that the entire appliance complied with an overall evaporative/diurnal emission standard. Therefore, the proposed compliance program and standard would have not only imposed enormous compliance and product integration problems for both engine companies and outdoor appliance OEMs, but would have also resulted in safety concerns as well, principally because of the substantial heat generated from the high-efficiency catalysts.

OPEI wasn't the only organization in opposition of the CARB standard: the U.S. Congressional House Committee on Government Reform, the California Fire Chiefs Associations, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the U.S. CPSC also went on record as opposing CARB's first proposal because of the unresolved safety issues.

CARB eventually adopted a modified alternative framework, which not only relaxes the stringency of the proposed Tier III exhaust standards, but also improves the overall general framework for the still-to-be-defined evaporative emission regulations. The CARB Board has thus adopted manufacturers' and OPEI's proposed exhaust standards, which OPEI says are about 25-percent less stringent for Class I engines (less than 225 cc displacement), and 33-percent less stringent for Class II engines (greater than 225 cc displacement).

Thus, the compliance costs for manufacturers should be roughly one-third less than the costs associated with the first CARB proposal, which would have increased the average compliance cost for lawn mowers by U.S. $106 and the average compliance cost for riding mowers by $321. The adopted, less-stringent exhaust and more flexible evaporative program is expected to result in an average total compliance cost increase of $73 for walk-behind-mowers and $189 for riding mowers.

In addition, OPEI has persuaded CARB to allow the use of smaller and less-expensive carbon canisters, thus providing manufacturers with a longer lead-time compared to the first CARB proposal. Specifically, manufacturers have more than 5 years of additional lead-time to achieve the ultimate evaporative emission requirements, which provide them with adequate time to develop and use low-permeation barriers (such as co-extruded materials) in constructing their fuel tanks.

In this case, where legislation once again forced manufacturers to go back to the drawing board to produce their products, what was needed was a straightforward and less burdensome, design-based program to comply with new standards. In this case, that has happened. And while there will be a cost increase for manufacturers (and ultimately, consumers), at least it is less than originally proposed.

But in another part of the appliance industry, manufacturers may not be so lucky. If predictions hold true, millions of cellular telephones in the U.S. will no longer be used due to a new rule that will allow consumers to keep their telephone numbers when they switch cellular service carriers. The rule that took effect on Nov. 24 is expected to motivate about 30 million people to switch carriers within the first year. Those who do will need to buy new phones. And that, say environmental advocates, will force many cell phones into landfills, potentially leaking toxic metals and chemicals into the ground.

According to a report from environmental research group Inform, Inc. (Waste in the Wireless World), cell phones are typically used for only 18 months before being replaced, and by 2005, about 130 million will be retired annually in the U.S.

"Because these devices are so small, their environmental impacts might appear to be minimal," said Bette Fishbein, Inform senior fellow and report author. "But the growth in their use has been so enormous that the environmental and public health impacts of the waste they create are a significant concern."

Thus, the research group calls for the reduction of toxic substances in cell phones, particularly lead and brominated flame retardants. Manufacturers in Europe and Japan have already eliminated such materials or have announced plans to do so, due to a directive passed this year that requires elimination of materials from new products by mid 2006.

Inform also is calling for a single technical standard for all cell phone carriers, along with standardized cell phone design elements, to be implemented in the U.S. and worldwide. It also suggests that cell phones and their accessories, including power sources, should be designed for disassembly, reuse, and recycling; that U.S. manufacturers should implement effective take-back programs for cell phones; that financial incentives are needed to encourage consumers to return cell phones and other small electronic devices for collection and reuse/recycling; and that rechargeable batteries, which are said to be particularly toxic, should be a target for take-back.

Ultimately, the group is asking cell phone makers to completely change the design of their products. Again, that means more money spent to manufacture products.

While I do not believe in forcing manufacturers to redesign products for immaterial reasons, in this case, perhaps the industry's best bet is a proactive approach, before advocacy groups call in the government to force changes that may be even more difficult to meet. It's the lesser of two evils, yes, but in the end, it may be worth it.

Happy Holidays and Best Wishes in 2004.


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