Camara is Ireland’s largest computer re-user, sending over 14,000 PCs to Africa to aid education in schools. We have just launched a ‘Computer Recycling is Bad for the Environment’ Campaign to make business and consumers nationwide aware that recycling is not the best practice for used computers.

Over 250,000 computers are disposed of in Ireland every year. However, recycling is not the way forward. A comprehensive UN study reveals that, reusing a computer, ‘is some 20 times more effective at saving life cycle energy use than recycling’.1

In the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December we here at Camara are drawing attention to this report. Camara re-use computers from Irish businesses and consumers in African schools, supplying over 14,000 PCs to date.

The “life cycle energy use” of a computer refers to the total amount of energy one computer and monitor will be responsible for using in its entire lifetime, including the manufacturing phase. In the case of one average computer and CRT monitor, over 80% of the life cycle energy cost is attributable to the manufacturing process.

This manufacturing process:

  • Uses 6,400 megajoules of electricity (that’s enough to power a CFL light bulb constantly for over 6 years)
  • Produces a carbon footprint that is the equivalent of driving a new Fiat 500 from Dublin to Moscow and back.
  • Uses over 1.8 tons of raw materials –  including a quarter of a ton of fossil fuels and 1.5 tons of water (that’s 2 years sufficient drinking water for one person)
  • And uses Over 20kg of chemicals including lead, which is a neurotoxin, and cadmium, a carcinogen that damages the lungs and kidneys.

Have a look at this video to learn a bit more about computer manufacturing and the dangers of improper disposal.

The average life span of a computer is three years and shrinking. However, the average useful life of a computer is much greater. The remainder of this useful life is lost, along with the large energy investment in the manufacturing process, when a computer is recycled. By far the most energy efficient method of dealing with a computer is to re-use it. Through re-use the need for manufacturing a new computer is prevented and thus the need to expend more energy, use more raw materials and produce more carbon dioxide, is reduced.

Despite these facts the Department of Environment does not explicitly recommend the re-use of computers as the best practice course of action for Irish businesses and consumers. However, they may soon be forced into a change of policy as the proposed recast of the WEEE legislation places more emphasis on re-use across the spectrum of waste electrical and electronic equipment.