Balancing the life cycle impacts of notebook computers: Taiwan’s experience

Citation: Resources, Conservation and Recycling 48: 13-25 2006

PDF Full Text: Balancing the life cycle impacts of notebook computers: Taiwan’s experience


We analyze the economic incentive structure as well as the environmental implications of the
current national policy for recycling notebook computers (NB’s) in the nation of Taiwan. Using
cost–benefit analysis and formal life cycle assessment (LCA) we critique the current program and
recommend future improvements. The current policy requires manufacturers to pay a recycling fee
for each unit sold domestically. These payments are channeled to third party recycling agents as
well as consumers that return used NB’s. While sound in principle, the arrangement falls short of
providing incentives for sustaining the domestic recycling infrastructure, scarcely covering operating
costs and leaving little capital to develop newrecycling technologies. The current program also fails to
induce widespread consumer participation by relying on an economic incentive that compares poorly
with the value obtainable from resale on the second-hand market. An environmental assessment of
various end-of-life disposal options for NBs reveals that recycling for some components actually leads
to greater negative environment impacts than the alternatives. Economic efficiency of the program
was analyzed by integrating the life cycle assessment and the cost–benefit analysis. Our assessment
suggests that a revised policy should hold manufacturers directly responsible for the development
of recycling technologies and encourage changes in the design phase of the commercial life cycle
rather than stressing recovery and recycling. Because of Taiwan’s premier position in global NB manufacturing, and in light of numerous international initiatives mandating electronicwaste recycling,
national policies should coordinate domestic manufacturing with foreign programs to reduce the
environmental impact from NBs across the life cycle in nations around the globe.

Areas of Research: Technology & Human Environment