Now think about how many families aross the world could answer this question and how many old computers that would add up to! We have talked about the potential social impacts of Moore’s Law and the growth of the technology industry, and we have also considered different ways that the technological world can be profitable. But what about the environmental impacts and consequences of Moore’s Law? As we were talking about the success of Dell due to their efficiency I began to question, why else is it beneficial to be efficient and keep inventory low? What happens to computers that aren’t sold? What happens to old technology that is out of date or broken? Are old computers sitting in storage? Are they in landfills? Are the in the ocean? I decided to do some research on e-waste and here is what I found:
So there is actually no clear definition of what e-waste is but it is generally described as “consumer and business electronic equipment that is near or at the end of its useful life.” As new technology is being created, old technology is being replaced and stored away. Where does this e-waste go? Let’s first put the amount of technological waste into perspective:
• Every year 20 to 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide
• In 2005 the US generated 2.6 million tons of e-waste out of which only 12.6% was recycled
• E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the EU
• E-wates contains more than 1000 different substances, many of which are toxic, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, selenium, hexavalent chromium, and flame retardants
• 500 million computers became obsolete in the US between 1997 and 2007
• An average PC weighs 29.6 kg and consists of metal, plastics, electronic components and glass.
• In 2006, it was estimated that each year 130 million mobile phones in the US and 105 million mobile phones in Europe will be thrown away.
These facts and many others can be found at http://www.griffith.edu.au/engineering-information-technology/e-waste-research-group/facts-figures.
This amount of waste can have large impacts on the environment and human health. Several electronic devices contain toxic materials such as lead, barium, cadmium, and mercury which could cause damage to lungs, attacks on the nervous system, muscle weakness, and could ultimately lead to death. When computers and other electronic devices reach the end of their life they can either be recycled, returned to the manufacture, donated, or thrown away. Can you guess which option is usually taken? Of course most people just throw them away. Where is all of this waste going? It’s being shipped overseas! Check out this picture:
The following link is a really good piece about the impacts of e-waste on India: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796756/ E-waste recycling is proving to be a profitable industry to these nations however it comes with a big risk. The process of recycling electronics is costly, complicated, and dangergous as it deals with toxic wastes. Is it okay that we are letting poorer nationsl clean up our mess? Is this exploitative? Or is it okay because it is a source of industry to them. I think this is going to be a problem that is only going to get bigger and we are going to have to be creative in the ways that we dispose of our technological waste.
What can you do to play your part is solving this issue? The EPA suggests that you do the following:
- Donate working technology to local charities or non-profit organizations
- Can your equipment be repaired or upgraded?
- Will the servicer send unsalvageable parts to be recycled?
- You could even get tax breaks for recycling old equipment!
If you are interested in learning more about what the EPA is saying and suggesting about this issue check our this newsletter. There is a lot of really interesteing and practical information.
I question what the leading information technology industry and manufactures are going to do to promote the green use of technology. Who will step up to be a leader in “going green”? Will manufacturers even care about the environmental and health impacts or will they only care about money? What will happen when there is no more room in India and China for this waste? Will they stop wanting it? Or will be innovative in finding ways to reuse old electronic parts? Can this be turned into a positive thing? Let me know your thoughts!