Recycle Your Computer

A report from the UN University recommends more effort is made to recycle computer hardware as every PC, from production to disposal, uses huge amounts of natural resources.

The UN report states that producing a PC system (base unit, monitor etc.) requires 240kg of fossil fuel, 22kg of other chemicals and 1.5 tonnes of water. This incredible figure then needs to be multiplied by 130 million, as that’s the number of PCs that roll out of factories every year.

BBC Breakfast picked up on the news and produced a rather confusing report based on it: they seemed to think that UK computer firms could take old motherboards and produce refurbished computers from them after a bit of recycling. Recycling electronic components is extremely difficult and produces large amounts of toxic materials, requiring specialist facilities which are often in developing countries.

So what can you do?

  • Since there is no real provision in many countries to collect and properly recycle PCs, reuse is often the easiest and most effective option.
  • Donate old PCs to charities or clubs. Even if your PC is getting on a bit it, can be still be used. Remember how fast it seemed when you first got it out of the box? Reinstalling the operating system and giving the hard drive a good clear out really makes a difference. Other operating systems like Linux can make good use of older PCs’ hardware.
  • Don’t dump your PC at a landfill – as we’ve said, the components contain highly toxic metals and chemicals. For this same reason, don’t burn it either – you’ll release poisons into the ground and atmosphere.

Only about 10% of electronic devices are recycled currently. To address this, the European Union has legislation coming into place in 2005 which will promote recycling by organising proper “take back” services and drop-off points for equipment – though expect the cost of a PC to go up by about US$50 as a result. Small price to pay, we say.

Computer Aid (UK, France and Spain)’s choice

Donate a PC (UK)

Metech PC Recycling (US)

Europe’s Recycling Marketplace

Published by

Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?