Camara’s Principal Development Officer, Ciarán Casey replies to our recent blog, “Think upgrade before buying a new PC

Last week I stumbled across a great article on the environmental impact of making computers. By ‘stumbled’, I mean intentionally found, but this being a blog I feel obliged to be nonchalant. The article, which is below, was written about the findings of a UN study. The report is five years old at this point, which really made us kick ourselves for not having found it already. The crux of it is that it takes 1.8 tonnes of stuff to make a pc and monitor. One and a half tonnes of water, 240kg of fossil fuels, and about 22kg of chemicals.

So that’s the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of water… or just over the weight of a Ford Escort… per computer. The 240kg of fossil fuels is about 10 times the weight of the computer itself. Compare this to say a car or fridge, where the weight of the fossil fuels used for production is roughly equal to their weights. And the chemicals…. well it’s a cocktail of brominated flame retardants, lead, and cadmium. Cadmium is chemically similar to zinc and mercury. It’s also poisonous, a carcinogen, potentially fatal, and unless it’s a component of something else banned by the EU as a hazardous substance. Like lead it’s also heavier than anything else in a landfill. So risks extend from the factory workers producing computers to about everyone who uses the water supplies near landfill sites where old computers are dumped.

Cheerful stuff….

Even if a computer is properly recycled the valuable resources that it takes to produce it are largely lost. Camara is the biggest re-use facility for computers in Ireland, and we only get about 5% of the computers disposed of every year. While the Department of the Environment advocates re-use as best policy, there’s no real incentive for big manufacturers, government departments, or corporations to comply. So instead of getting another five years in a school and giving kids access to the best educational tool on the planet, they’re scrapped. Through inertia, myopia and carelessness.

24th September ‘09