by Tara Beth Casey, Camara Environment Project Officer
As Camara marks the receipt of its 100,000th computer donation , we reflect on the positive impact of computer reuse. Of those 100,000 machines, 54,395 have been refurbished and shipped to schools in disadvantaged communities around the globe. This saved approximately 27,197 tonnes of polluting fossil fuels, 81,600 tonnes of water, 1,380 tonnes of harmful chemicals from being consumed.
“Reduce-Reuse-Recycle”, is the classic tagline that accompanies the well-known triangular arrow symbol for recycling. Any of these practices will help to decrease your environmental impact, but the most environmentally friendly action of the three is ‘reduce’. If you can reduce the amount of waste that you produce by simply consuming less, it will help to eradicate the problem of over-stuffed landfills and over-exploited resources. If you can’t reduce, the next best thing is to ‘reuse’.
Reuse is the method of giving a second life to a product by either refurbishing it for its original use, or creatively renovating it to take on a whole new use. Reusing greatly extends the life of a good and keeps it out of the landfill for an extended period of time, while also removing the need to buy new.
If you can’t reduce or reuse, the next best thing you can do is recycle. A recycling centre will break down what they can from the product and then use those materials to make new products. This helps eliminate the need for as many virgin materials when manufacturing new goods.
Camara is playing an important part in changing how Ireland disposes of computers. Computers and IT equipment are some of the most toxic materials that can enter a landfill. Computers are 30 to 50 percent metal, including aluminium, arsenic, copper, iron, mercury, and lead to name a few. Heavy mining is done to extract these materials, which causes considerable pollution to the air and water. The manufacturing of a single desktop computer generates an enormous amount of waste. For instance, according to the NRDC and a UN study, over half a ton of fossil fuels, 23 kilograms of chemicals, and 1.5 tonnes of water are consumed to manufacture a computer. These are staggering figures, and to top it off, the general life span of that computer will be 3 to 5 years. Even though it is still fully functional, many will just throw it away or recycle it when a newer model hits the market. Here at Camara, we have been working hard to change that.
The global economy is currently functioning in a linear process, where resources are exploited, goods are manufactured from the resources, the goods are used, and then the goods are disposed of. This is an unsustainable system which will not continue to support our population much longer. Global leaders are opting to shift our economy into a more circular and regenerative one. In a circular economy goods would be designed to be more durable in order to be functional for much longer, while ensuring biological preservation and promoting reuse. Because Camara reuses about 60% of the computers we receive, we are attempting to help aid in this economic transition by elongating the lifespan of the average computer.
Reusing 54,395 computers prevented 7,587 tonnes of CO2 pollution, while simultaneously having the huge, positive social impact of providing 21st century skills to some of the world’s poorest communities. At Camara we are striving to incorporate the triple bottom line into all of our decisions. The triple bottom line accounts for financial, social, and environmental dimensions. It will allow us to assess our progress in a broader, more inclusive context and help us to achieve sustainability. Reusing computers is an incredibly valuable resource economically, environmentally, and socially. So before you send your computer off to a recycling centre or the bin, remember us at Camara and the huge impact one reused computer can make.
To donate computers to Camara visit our Give Computers page.