While computers have helped reduce millions of tons of paper and other resources spent on storage, computers and the products associated with them are causing other environmental problems, labeled as e-waste, or “e-waste”. Fortunately, there are things we can do as a society and that manufacturers are also doing to combat the effects of electronic waste.
Computers are made up of a wide variety of materials: plastic, metal, silica and other minerals, rubber and glass. Many of these ingredients are found in a variety of electronic materials, such as televisions and cell phones. As computers continually improve and fall in price, they are high turnover items that have a short life before becoming obsolete.
The high turnover of computers creates an increasing stream of equipment going into the trash. These electronic wastes are a source of heavy toxic metals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, which seep into the soil, contaminating groundwater. The average cathode ray tube (CRT) contains between four and eight pounds of lead, according to Consumer Reports. In addition, laptop batteries contain heavy metals like cadmium. These metals accumulate in the bodies of animals and humans until they reach toxic levels, leading to birth defects, neurological disorders, and even cancer.
Many preservatives and chemicals in the plastic components are toxic, too. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) pose significant health risks such as cancer and reproductive problems, according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. The production of these plastics, the mining of heavy metals and oil, coupled with the production of electricity to run computers, and coal mining to power plants all contribute to toxins in the air, soil And the water.
Prevention / Solution
The major actions that can reduce this consumption of our resources and damage to our environment are to reduce the amount of electricity used for equipment, upgrade the system instead of replacing it, and recycle or donate used computers for reuse. Although computers have between 90 and 95 percent recyclable components, the remaining 80 percent was dumped in landfills or exported abroad to landfills in other nations such as India.
Companies are also doing their part to reduce the negative environmental impact of computer equipment. LCD monitors have replaced lead-containing CRT monitors. Companies like National Semiconductor and Intel, in 2005 changed the material in their chips to a compound that did not contain lead. Companies are trying to create more environmentally friendly plastics and use recycled materials in computer manufacturing.