18/03/2004

Environmental Impact of Computers

Personal computers are becoming smaller and more powerful, but their
environmental impacts are increasing, according to a new study by United
Nations University, an international community of scholars that studies
sustainable development and other topics.

According to the researchers, the average desktop computer with monitor
requires at least 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals to
manufacture, making it much more materials-intensive than an automobile or
refrigerator, which requires only one to two times its weight in fossil fuels.

The materials- and energy-intensive production process, greater adoption of PCs
worldwide and the rapid rate at which they are discarded for newer machines add
up to growing mountains of garbage and increasingly serious contributions to
resource depletion, environmental pollution and climate change, the scientists
claim.

UNU identifies several options available to national, regional and local
governments to help stem the tide of computers' environmental impact. These
include the environmental regulation of manufacturing processes and the
environmental characteristics of computer products; mandatory product
take-back, recycling systems and voluntary programs such as eco-labeling; and
funding research and analysis, as well as education and public awareness
campaigns, on the environmental impacts of computers.

The UNU researchers also note that individual users can play an important role
in keeping PCs' impact to a minimum.

"Users should think carefully about whether they really need to buy a new
computer, if upgrading their existing machine could serve the same purpose,"
Williams said. "Promptly selling old machines to the used-product market is
also important."

Other steps computer users can take include:


  • When purchasing, consider a used computer.
  • When using a computer, turn it off at night and make sure that standby
    modes are working to reduce electricity consumption.
  • At the end of a computer's life, sell or donate the computer. A computer
    that is no longer useful to you can often supply the right computing power to
    another user who doesn't need such a powerful machine.
  • Investigate free computer recycling programs offered by many
    manufacturers.

Further Information


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