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Environmental Impact of PCs

When you add all the electricity it takes to run the internet + the impact of making PCs, it's a global warming and environmental nightmare...

"the manufacturing of one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor requires at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water. In terms of weight, the total amount of materials used is about equal to that of a mid-size car."
A United Nations University study into the environmental impact of personal computers, due to be published later Monday, has found that around 1.8 tons of raw material are required to manufacture the average desktop PC and monitor and that extending a machine's operational life through re-use holds a much greater potential for energy saving than recycling.

According to the study, the manufacturing of one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor requires at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water. In terms of weight, the total amount of materials used is about equal to that of a mid-size car.

By far the best way to minimize impact on the environment from a personal computer is to extend its useful life, said Eric Williams, a researcher at the United Nations University (UNU) in Tokyo and one of the report's co-authors.

Users should think carefully about whether they really need a new computer, if upgrading their existing computer could serve the same purpose, he said. Actions such as delaying replacement and upgrading the memory or storage space or, if the machine is replaced, donating the old computer so that it may continue to be used offer potential energy savings of between five and 20 times those gained by recycling.

This is because so much of the energy required to manufacture a personal computer is used to make high-tech components like semiconductors and those components are destroyed in the recycling process to collect a small amount of raw materials. In an earlier study published in late 2002, Williams concluded that 1.7 kilograms of fossil fuels and chemicals and 32 kilograms of water are used to produce a single 2-gram 32M-byte DRAM (dynamic RAM) memory chip.

Seemingly endless advances in technology are encouraging people to replace their machines and falling prices are making replacement a more attractive option that upgrading and have users accustomed to a two-year to three-year upgrade cycle.

"It's a big problem," said Williams.

However, there are some encouraging signs. In the corporate market machines supplied under service contracts often have a good chance of being re-used thanks to programs offered by the equipment suppliers, such as Dell Inc.

The vendor has seen a tremendous increase in the number of machines it receives from customers for processing before either recycling or donation to agencies such as the National Cristina Foundation, said Tod Arbogast, senior manager of asset recovery services at Dell.

He said Dell has handled millions of machines since 1992 when it started offering its asset recovery service, which costs around $25 per machine and includes collection, transportation and reporting and, for personal computers, destruction of data on the hard-disk drive. The service is available in the U.S., Europe and select countries in Asia and Latin America. Around two fifths of Dell's commercial customers participate.

"We believe no computer should go to waste," he said. "The ultimate solution is to reuse the computer either as a donation, for parts or on the second-hand market."

The market in used computers for private users is growing as technologies like Internet auctions allow users to quickly advertise their old machine to several potential customers. The market for used computer equipment on eBay was around two billion dollars in 2001, said Williams.

When it comes to replacing equipment there is one piece of advice that Williams offers both private and corporate users: do something with your old machine quickly.

"The longer it sits in your closet (or desk), the less value it will be to you and whoever will be getting it."

The report also looks at energy use and says always-on networks are making the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Energy Star program less relevant.

"I think it needs to be renewed," said Williams. Too many computers at companies are prevented from entering their standby mode by LAN traffic, which keeps them awake and consuming power even while they are not in use, he said. While acknowledging that some machines are kept online to allow network maintenance to take place, Williams suggests redesigning network cards to allow the PC to go to sleep and then wake it should there be any important network traffic.

Nonresidential office and telecommunications equipment consumed around 3 percent of all electricity supplied in the U.S. in 2000, according to a January 2002 DOE study. Of that, around 40 percent was consumed by personal computers and associated monitors.

The report, "Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing their Impacts," is published by Kluwer Academic Publishers and the UNU and is available in paperback (ISBN: 1-4020-1680-8) or hard cover (ISBN: 1-4020-1679-4) editions and costs $35 and $83, respectively. The UNU's dedicated Web site related to IT and the environment is  http://www.it-environment.org .
Thank You! 08.Mar.2004 21:28

Red Suspenders

Thanks for posting this!

People don't realize the tremendous infastructure needed to support computer manufacture.
It's time to quit the constant race for the fastest proccesser and work towards making a better more effecient machine. One whose power supply doesn't send crap back out and damage wiring and utility transformers. One which is simple and easy to use for basic tasks we like to use computers for. One that doesn't require gastly terrible chemicals to etch it's circuts. One that dosent require such a perfect stable and sterile environment to manufacture it's chips- that the factory demands so much power to keep the air conditioned that our aluminum industry had to go under.

Machines are supposed to work for people, but it always seems like people are working for thier computers. Almost like some bad 1980's sci-fi movies.


Anyways thanks for posting a great article on a neglected problem of our times.


Anyw

Yeah, But 08.Mar.2004 22:32

the reason is:

CAPITALISM.

that is what drives the demand for the new, more powerful machines.

because the chip industry - and following hot on its heels, the PC manufacturers - are dependent on 18-month technology gestation "jumps" (largely a function of Moore's Law  http://www.arstechnica.com/paedia/m/moore/moore-1.html ) based on microchip speed, efficiency, cost reductions, and economies of scale. TRANSLATION: = increased sales.

----------------------------

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore's_Law

The effect of the operation of Moore's Law on computer component suppliers is profound. A typical major design project (such as an all-new CPU or hard drive) takes between two and five years to reach production-ready status: in consequence, component manufacturers face enormous timescale pressures: just a few weeks delay in a major project can spell the difference between great success and massive losses, even bankruptcy. Expressed as "a doubling every 18 months", Moore's Law suggests the phenomenal progress of technology in recent years. Expressed on a shorter timescale, however, Moore's Law equates to an average performance improvement in the industry as a whole of over 1% a week. For a manufacturer competing in the cut-throat CPU, hard drive or RAM markets, a new product that is expected to take three years to develop and is just two or three months late is 10 to 15% slower or larger in size than the directly competing products, and is usually unsellable.

----------------------------

large, leading-edge, profitable, PC-dependent businesses are FORCED to lead the way in order to stay competitive by constantly upgrading their hardware (it's not like they can *afford* to wait two years for their leading-edge, profitable *competitors* to eclipse them in the meantime . . .)

the individual consumer's and individual/small businesspersons need for upgraded machines is correspondingly smaller than the large competitive business's need for new ones, but they still follow

it's like a vicious circle.

as long as CAPITALISM keeps demanding that the leading businesses all have employees armed with the latest upgraded/updated PC, the cycle will continue . . .


Yet Another Reason Why Microsoft = Satan 08.Mar.2004 23:03

xyzzy

Users should think carefully about whether they really need a new computer, if upgrading their existing computer could serve the same purpose, he said. Actions such as delaying replacement and upgrading the memory or storage space or, if the machine is replaced, donating the old computer so that it may continue to be used offer potential energy savings of between five and 20 times those gained by recycling.
And, of course it's the Windoze treadmill of endless upgrades that drives new computer purchases.

I saw it many times at work in the computer support business. A new secretary is hired. She gets a new computer, with the newest version of Office running on the newest version of Windows.

Up to that point, all the secretaries had happily been using computers several years old, with several-years-old versions of Office running under several-years-old versions of Windows. (And quite happily so -- they never typed much more than memoranda read by a few dozen people, or letters read by a single person, so why would they need lots of whiz-bang fancy new formatting features?) But each new version of Office is deliberately written so it's very difficult for to consistantly make it output files compatible with previous versions.

Suddenly, I'm getting complaints left and right. "I can't read this file Susan e-mailed me." The simplest solution would be to put an old version of Office on Susan's computer. But Office is copyrighted, and Micro$oft is only selling the latest version of the program. And Micro$oft also is known for its predatory and aggressive copyright enforcement. So we're forced to upgrade everyone else's version of Office.

And everyone else's version of Windows, since (surprise!) the new Office only runs on the new Windows. Then I notice how gawdawful slow the old computers with the new software are. Users complain, too. So we end up buying them new computers as well.

It doesn't end there, either. The new version of Office is significantly different than the old one. Experienced users in the latter get slowed down learning the ropes of the former. Productivity suffers. Eventually they get back up to speed and all is well.

Until a year or so down the road, when a new professor is hired, and she hands the secretary a floppy with a Micro$oft Word document typed with the new version of Word on her brand-new computer.


Portland

Alternative OS 09.Mar.2004 07:42

Mother

These are good reasons to support alternative OS like Linux, which runs very well on a Windows obsolete computer.

Hmmm this seems apropo 09.Mar.2004 16:10

Patricia Von Funsterboing


if you aren't at a public computer 09.Mar.2004 20:33

me

stop wasting time and energy here! You are destroying your Earth. It may seem stupid seeing that everyone else is. But seeing how much different and more affluent we are from the rest of the world's population and how much of the world's resources and destruction we are responsible for, people need to look at their own lives as well.

okay 11.Mar.2004 00:57

let me double check here...

"the manufacturing of one desktop computer and 17-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor requires at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water. In terms of weight, the total amount of materials used is about equal to that of a mid-size car."

Are y'sure in this insanely co-dependent economy where the chicken grown and eaten in Washington was basted in Wisconsin, that it didn't take at least that much resources just to make my freakin' lunch?

Yeah, sharing a computer would be good plus someone will tap you on the shoulder in a couple hours so the puter won't eat your brain like a teevee, but I liked the thought of the kazillion pounds of paper I was saving compared to if I had been reading all these posts (not to mention the rest of the internet) on paper, or all the terrible things I'd have to do to the enviroment to make enough to pay my phone bill if I were having these discussions long distance.

Geez, between this and Peak Oil... is this "Conservation is Futile" month or something, or have I just been dreaming that only chopping down electrons was an improvement?

Linux Forever 11.Mar.2004 01:21

Hi

For 4 years, I ran linux on a pentium 120 and I was happier with it than a windows machine 4 times as fast. Then I upgraded to somebodies discarded P200 and ran linux on that for a year or 2 with no problems. I'd take it over a windows machine with a 1ghz processor any day of the week.

Recently though, I did finally, after over a decade of using computers that were always terribly outdated, by a newer computer. I still run Linux on it.

I've often thought that there should be some kind of local beowolf cluster or other distributed computing donation sites where people can just add their old computers to make a community supercomputer.

Stop being spoiled 11.Mar.2004 11:21

me

You don't need to read this stuff on your own little private computer. Just because something saves in one area does not mean it doesn't destroy in another. Stop rationalizing your needless consumption. Half the world gets less than $2 a day, and you MUST have your little computer time. Give it up. And buy your food locally, like at farmer's markets. And stop buying chicken. The land used to grow the chicken feed could be used to feed people, instead of chickens which have a lower energy level.

The end implication 11.Mar.2004 12:24

6502

So does this mean Indymedia will junk their servers to prevent hard to the greater environmental good?

actually 11.Mar.2004 12:34

pdxtech

The indymedia servers are 100% reused; that is, their use saves them from a landfill.

Computers are one big PCB 11.Mar.2004 15:09

ac

nm

If we did not have computers! 11.Mar.2004 16:15

Bird dog

You would not be able to voice your concerns on this web-site!
Now that we have solved that problem lets move to another.

It is true that corporations in our country build a failure factor into most of what they produce.
If they did not, they would not be able to keep the money rolling into their bank accounts as they do today.
Follow the money trail.

For example we could use air purifiers.
Manufacturing the product with filters that could be easily cleaned with water would be best, but they can make more money if they make them with filters that you have to buy again and again.

So with this knowledge, what could we do if we become a watch dog for lawyers on our side of this problem.
If it could be proven that they deliberately produce products that continue to poison our planet, could we then have lawyers fight said corporations for damages.

will the replacement of cathode ray monitors with flat screen ... 11.Mar.2004 22:25

glen theKnownUniverse@yahoo.com

... make things better or worse in terms of further poisoning of earth ecosystems ?
.
Also: KICK ME! I have not switched to LINUX yet. And I have visited at FreeGeek several times in the last six months. I have sworn publically that the next time windows98secondEdition goes tits up, I will move (UP!) to LINUX, specifically the brand of GNU/LINUX recommended by FreeGeek.
.
It's almost like Windows knows that its jig is up. This is the longest stretch in four years that it has gone without breaking down. It might be the effectiveness of the AVAST virus protection system I have been using for the last ten minths. But I think the human+machine mystical explanation is lots more fun, though rather less likely ...
.
FYI: AVAST is a European thing, available free for sworn non-commercial (home, personal)users. You can google it to get more info and download.

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