Let's face it - on the environmental front, the metal finishing industry doesn't have a particularly great image.
This is at least partly due to the way some operators in the industry have behaved toward the environment - sometimes showing little care or concern for the harm they may be causing. But thankfully this is changing as more companies show leadership to the industry by dealing with environmental issues responsibly.
Many electroplating processes are hazardous to a degree (this is why it may be best to consider outsourcing this responsibility to someone in the industry who is efficient at managing, controlling and improving their environmental impacts). Managed well, the environmental impact of electroplating processes can be minimised. Also, new technology is gradually becoming available to the metal finishing industry which will lead to continued reductions in environmental impact.
Manufacturers are increasingly being required to take responsibility for end of life disposal or recycling of their products (or packaging). Most forms of decorative electroplating result in a film of 'true' metal over the surface of the product which is basically 'inert' or of "zero valence".
In many cases this metal is recyclable and should not result in leaching of hazardous materials (should it become land fill). The same is not necessarily true for processes like hexavalent chromium based zinc coatings/chromate conversion coatings which can break down and place substances including hex chrome into the environment.
Manufacturers supplying into European markets need to observe European Government directives such as RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and ELVD (End of Vehicle Life Directive). Standards or directives like this are being developed by other countries (Australia included). These directives seek to place limitations on the presence of certain hazardous substances in manufactured goods (e.g. lead, hex chrome, mercury, etc)
At A Class, some of the initiatives we have taken to improve environmental management include waste water reduction, waste water treatment, safer procedures, links to quality (through our ISO accredited system), and continuous improvement approach. We constantly seek better, safer alternatives to some of the materials, processes or methods traditionally used.
If ever you have concerns about the environmental impacts of certain metal finishing processes, consult a trusted electroplating adviser for further discussion.