How to make computers greener

Related to the WEEE regulations I mentioned in another topic, the BBC is reporting on the impact of the new regulations on the computer industry in the UK. The article suggests that more re-use is needed with computers rather than attempts to recycle the material. It also points out all the yummy hazardous waste in our favourite home appliance.

On a personal note…I’ve only purchased two computers since 1997. I bought an IBM PS2 in '97…it only lasted me 6 months before I wanted to upgrade. Unfortunately IBM made it nearly impossible to re-use any components. Then I bought a 486 DX2 80 mhz. Since then I’ve simply upgraded components on a need basis. I’ve gone through 3 motherboards, 4 processors, unknown amounts of RAM, and 3 hard drives. I think though, that by re-using parts I’ve gotten a greater life out of them, and thrown out a lot less than buying a Dell or Mac every other year.

PCs are commodity items now- this is a big problem given the amount of resources it takes to produce them. While building your own PC prolongs the lifetime of components, it doesn’t actually deal with the problem. One thing I’ve noticed is that of every Apple i’ve owned, i’ve been able to sell it second hand and get quite a good return on it- perhaps its the nature of Macs, but they generally have much longer lifetimes. Still not anymore green, but perhaps more valuable as objects- is it their design?

I think in order to solve this problem, or at least to work towards a solution, manufacturers should be responsible for recycling their computers- this will hopefully cause them to look into better methods of manufacture. Though I believe in Europe this is the case and their solution is to ship them to a third world country for disposal, or sweep them under the rug rather than address the issue.

I recently worked on a project (for a so called intelligent company) involving PC’s, and one of the concerns we addressed was that the life span needed to be increased for hardware. Making components easily upgradeable so as to continue using the same equipment while being able to swap out obsolete components such as the motherboard would cut down on toxic waste and the need to throw away perfectly good components. An added benefit of modularizing hardware would be to cut down on “down” time for equipment that needs repair. A user could swap out a bad component for a good one and send the core back to the manu. for repair and reuse. The idea was met with less than favorable enthusiasm and we were told that basically manufacturers plan on obsolescence to make their profits. An obvious conclusion but nevertheless dissapointing to the future outlook of our landfills. Additionally I agree that one of the reasons companies find it so attractive to move plants overseas is to avoid increasing environmental restrictions rather than coming up with other more E friendly solutions. Attitudes need to change before anything happens and unfortunately they only seem to be changing for the worse.

Indeed, attitudes need to change. I think that the way they will change stateside is for the manufacturers to discover the advantages to sustainability. I heard on CBC a year ago an interview with the president of a large carpet manufacturer. Maybe 5-10 years ago he had decided that he would simply do an environmental assessment of his company. Once that was done though, it became obvious the gravity of the manufacturing polution, but also the cost waste of dealing with it. Today they use all naturally based dyes, which are safe if they leak out. They are also switching to natural fibres from synthetics. Moreover, they have begun to use renewable energy to supplement their conventional supply. One might think that this all cost so much that the company would be in trouble, or merely selling high end product, but no…they are competing with all the others, and are now actually turning higher profits because all of the changes were done with cost also in mind (ie, the materials are actually cheaper, but there is an investment hurdle to using them).

So keep hammering at them DCypher. They will get it someday.

Of course the other way is the WEEE initiative in the EU where the government demands manufacturers deal with their waste. I believe that the law will no longer allow the dumping of hazardous waste onto the developing world.

On the subject of using out-dated computer equipement, I will post this little gem of a site here for all those Greenies to enjoy:

Music performed by 386 DX / 4Mb RAM / EGA / 40 Mb HD.