Computer Wasteland

Computer Wasteland

by Ilana Nevins, Eco Coalition Editor

This year almost 205.5 million computers were disposed. Of the disposed computers, 157.3 are trashed, and 48.2 million are recycled- only 18% recycling rate. In California, over 6,000 computers are discarded every day. Its time we more consciously consider the impact of this waste.

Not only do these computers use up valuable landfill space, they contain enormous amounts of toxins including Cadium, mercury, lead, and chromium. These hazardous materials can be found in Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) and Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) screens. These chemicals can have long-term effects on the brain, liver, kidney, reproductive organs and may cause cancer. Other externalities of computer e-waste are felt by workers and communities who are impacted by the unsafe recycling systems and growing landfills in developing countries. Besides the e-waste hazards from a computer and its disposal, the mere production of a computer consumes enormous amounts of energy and natural resources.

Approximately 81% of a computer’s total energy is used in its manufacturing while only 19% is consumed throughout its lifetime. The production of a computer uses 530 lbs of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water. Each desktop computer requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels, compared to a refrigerator or car, which only needs 1 to 2 times its weight in fossil fuels. Consumer consciousness is essential to keep e-waste to a minimum- deciding whether or not a new computer is necessary can have a drastic impact.

However, recycling computers can significantly decrease the impact of our e-waste. Simply recycling aluminum may save up to 90% of the energy used to mine for new aluminum. Most computer manufacturers now have a computer takeback program in which they offer free recycling to consumers wishing to dispose of their computers. Manufacturers such as HP are taking actions to become greener, such as selling a special-edition desktop PC that consumes 45% less power than other PCs.

Computers are not only increasingly essential applications in our life, but they also have potential to drastically impact our lives unless we remain conscious of the possible effects of them-both before they reach the store and after they hit the trash can.

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Did you know…

Breathing air in highly populated and polluted metropolitan cities can reduce your life expectancy by 2 to 3 years?

70% of toxic waste in U.S. landfills consists of e-waste, items such as hard drives, monitors, servers, etc?

Data centers around the world consume more energy in one year than the entire country of Sweden?

At least 36 states in the U.S. are expected to face water shortages within the next 5 years?

Over 200 million items of e-waste are thrown away every year in the U.S.?