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Jun 20 2007   9:08AM GMT

Laying e-waste: The PC’s big cyber carbon footprint

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Environmental responsibility can be a bit of a pain. For one thing, I’d love to buy a new computer but I’m having difficulty rationalizing it (and, let me tell you, I can rationalize with the best!), making it fit into the “sustainable practices” model.

I’m still hearing that computers are, on the average, considered obsolete and discarded after only three years. Can that be true? We’re a three-computer household, with ages ranging from 5-8 years. And I’d love to trade up but… they all work. They do everything we need them to do (mind you, we’re not gamers), are reliable enough, fast enough, have enough storage. So as much as I’d like to get a new desktop with a flat screen monitor and a fresh, new hard drive — it just doesn’t seem to be the best thing to do.

Gartner Research recently reported that the global IT industry is responsible for about two percent of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to aviation.

Other tidbits:

  • It takes about 1.8 tons of chemicals, fossil fuels and water to make a single PC.
  • Most obsolete computers end up in landfill.
  • Toxic chemicals, such as cadmium and mercury, leach out into the surrounding soil.
  • Energy costs will soon consume one-third of IT budgets.

Sigh. I guess I’m morally obligated to keep my old systems until they give up the ghost… On the other hand… you know, my sister could definitely use a computer. And even if she only lives across town, couldn’t donating one be considered doing my part to bridge the digital divide? And if I buy a new one from a responsible company, can’t I see that as support for good environmental practices? Yeaaaaaaaah… that’s the ticket! (I did tell you about that “rationalization” thing 😉 )

So. You’re going to buy a new computer. What can you do with your old one? Here’s a sampling of information and advice:

From GOODmagazine, here’s a punchy and to-the-point video about the issue.

Freecycle.org is a fabulous international community for the exchange of goods. Find a worthy home for your old electronics!

Ewasteguide.info offers more information and advice.

The EPA maintains e-cycling information on its Website, including “Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Old Computer and Other Electronic Products?

Environmental responsibility in the enterprise

Some of IT’s promises have not really come to fruition. Paperless office, anyone? To the contrary, we’re printing more than ever. It may not be easy being green but — hey! — we’ve only got one planet. How much do you know about environmentally responsible and sustainable computing practices and technologies? Try our quiz, Greening the cube farm.

How green are your computing — and buying — practices? Let’s talk about it! ~ Ivy Wigmore


UPDATE: Adam Trujillo, over at SearchDataCenter’s excellent Server Specs blog, has posted a Q&A with environmental reporter Elizabeth Grossman, exploring e-waste further, including why we should all care about it.

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