06 Sep, 2010

How environmentally friendly is your new PC or Mac?

Well for a start, how often do you upgrade your entire system because the latest PC, Mac or laptop is faster, you can't run the newest Microsoft offering on your old one, the new one comes with some cool freebies or a great looking body etc etc.

What happens to your old computer? Does it go to a computer retirement home where it will live out its twilight years being usefully employed doing simple tasks that don't tax its systems too much, like playing Solitaire? Does it end up in your loft/crawl space gathering dust because "I just might need it one day"? Do you give it to your local school to help them out? Do you trade it in for the new one? Sell it on eBay? Drop it off on electronics recycling day (if your town runs one)? Put it out with the trash?

It might shock you to know that the World's annual volume of e-waste grows globally by 40 million tonnes a year. With decreasing costs of new technology, and the speed that it goes out of date, more and more devices are ending up on the e-scrapheap, literally.

The problem is that these physical e-scrapheaps can result in toxic substances seeping into the soil and groundwater of the countries stockpiling the e-waste, especially the countries where informal or illegal recycling of technology items takes place for salvage of precious metals, such as Africa, Asia and South America. Unlicenced recyclers are creating environmental and health concerns as a result of their operations by lacking the skills and equipment to recycle correctly and safely. For example, burning salvaged cables to expose the copper wire, this creates toxic fumes which are emitted to the environment and of course inhaled.

Do you know what noxious substances are in your computer?
Antimony trioxide (flame retardant)
Arsenic (cathode ray tubes, there are people still hanging on to these)
Cadmium (circuit boards, semiconductors)
Chromium (corrosion protection)
Cobalt (structure, magnetism)
Gold & silver (circuit boards)
Lead (cathode ray tube, solder)
Mercury (switches, housing)
Polybrominated flame retardants (plastic casings, cables, circuit boards)
Selenium (circuit boards)

Nasty isn't it? With the exception of the gold and silver of course, but don't get excited about precious metals recovery, it's less than $0.20 worth. Break even point for recovery of precious metals is about 30,000 CPU’s.

Many countries are now finally tackling e-waste, however Indonesia recently turned around a shipment of illegal containers of e-waste originating from Massachusetts, US. Not really a good solution to getting rid of it... ship it somewhere else.

In Canada, Alberta was the first province to establish an electronics waste recycling program. In 2004 The Alberta Recycling Management Authority was established and it has done a great job in bringing e-waste and its dangers to public attention.

In Canmore you can drop off your unwanted electronics on round-up days and it's a busy day. It's just a great sight to see people all turning up with their unwanted electronics to have them safely recycled rather than going into landfill. So keep up the good work Canmorites!

There is just one word of caution for any computer/laptop recycling, don't forget to remove the harddrive and destroy that separately, or wipe it and re-write rubbish over the top to ensure that any personal or sensitive data is inaccessible.