The potential environmental consequences of the recommended computer purchase programme in the recent Smart Schools = Smart Economy Report have been ignored.
As revealed by a 2004 UN report, the environmental cost of manufacturing a computer is extensive. This process uses 6,400 megajoules of electricity (enough to power a CFL light bulb constantly for over 6 years) and produces a carbon footprint that is the equivalent of driving a new Fiat 500 from Dublin to Moscow…..and back!
Despite weighing on average only 20kg, over 1.8 tons of raw materials are necessary to construct a computer. This breaks down to include a quarter of a ton of fossil fuels; 1.5 tons of water (enough drinking water for you for 2 years); and over 20kg of chemicals including lead and cadmium.
Re-use of computers, as recommended by the UN, is ‘some 20 times more effective at saving life cycle energy use than recycling’. Most of the energy and resource investment is lost during recycling.
Although the Smart Schools Report (page 24) advises that, ‘affordability and sustainability be considered as important criteria in any technology procurement decisions’, re-used computers are not specifically recommended.
Schools should be steered toward purchasing re-used computers rather than new ones. There are over 200,000 computers disposed of every year in Ireland. Most of these have not reached the end of their useful life and, with low cost refurbishment, can be re-used for up to five years – an ideal smart solution for schools.
It makes both financial and environmental sense.