With the development of Computers and information technology came talk of a new environmentally friendly era. The need to create and store documents on paper would be gone, along with the need to travel from city to city to conduct business meetings. The developers of computers sold Government Originations and Corporate America on these cost saving concepts. The promises made by computer developers proved to be somewhat true, especially given the wide spread deployment and use of Internet and email. Although computers have succeeded in reducing paper consumption, time, and fuel wasted while traveling they have managed to create some other waste management disasters.
E-Waste is a new phrase that has been coined in the last few years. The term refers to the massive amounts of electronic waste that is being generated by ageing computer equipment being sent to disposal facilities and landfills each year. According to the National Safety Council, more than 150 million used PCs are sitting idle in storage in the United States with an additional 315 million computers that will need to be recycled or scrapped in 2004.
The manufacturing of computers has transformed life in the second half of the 20th century. This also leads to rapid product obsolescence and lack of focus on environmental and social impacts of expanding production. The average computer platform now has a life span of about two years; hardware and software companies constantly generate new programs that demand more speed, memory and power. It is usually cheaper and more convenient to buy a new machine for the newer software than it is to upgrade the old machines.
Disposing of e-waste in a landfill may seem harmless but in reality it is very dangerous to water supplies, plant life and humans in the surrounding areas. Electronic computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic, for example chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, toxic metals, photo-active and biologically active materials, acids, plastics and plastic additives. Health impacts of the mixtures and material combinations in the products are unknown. The production of semiconductors, printed circuit boards, disk drives and monitors use very hazardous chemicals, and workers in chip manufacturing are reporting cancer and birth defects. New evidence shows that computer-recycling employees have high levels of dangerous chemicals in their blood.
The list of toxic components in computers also includes lead and cadmium in computer circuit boards, lead oxide and barium in computer monitors cathode ray tubes, mercury in switches and flat screens, and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing. Considering the fact that landfills leak and even the best are not completely secure they will eventually allow a certain amount of chemical and metal leakage into the surrounding environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency is just now beginning to recognize that these problems do exist and are creating new laws and regulations to correct disposal of e-waste. Several states are now adopting disposal programs, and some are even designating sites where consumers as well a businesses will be able to dispose of their unwanted computers without fees. These government programs as well as independent companies trying to recapture IT assets are proving successful.
Although computers are responsible for a large increase in the amount of waste generated they have also been responsible for a significant decreases in fuel consumption and air pollution. With the rise of the communications era in recent years there is less need to travel. With video conferencing people can now go to a meeting without leaving their home, talk to someone with a cellular phone and do a myriad of other things including work, shop, search and communicate through the World Wide Web.
With all this, there is less reliance on cars, which translates into less harmful carbon monoxide emissions. By using these advanced techniques and dealing with waste in a more responsible manor we would reduce air pollution and overfilled landfill sites saving valuable resources along with our invaluable environment.
Waste recycling efforts, and utilization of technology hold the key to solving our waste problems. By using methods such as recycling and responsible manufacturing techniques to reduce waste we would eliminate the need for designated landfill sites and the resulting massive pollution clean up costs. Computers like promised can be the solution, not cause of societies waste problems.