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Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go?
Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go? - PCSTATS
What are you going to do with the old computer or bits of now retired hardware?
Filed under: Editorial Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Feb 13 2007   D. Quinn  
Home > Reviews > Editorial > PCSTATS

So you've just come back from your favourite little electronics store and nestled in your outstretched arms is a pile of new toys, most of which is intended to replace the aging hardware sitting by your desk. Maybe you've gone wireless and picked up a new 802.11n wireless router, or a new Serial ATA hard drive to replace the IDE drive that crashed last week... better yet, maybe you've splurged and just brought home an entirely new and customized computer system!

Now comes the dilemma. What are you going to do with the old computer or bits of now retired hardware? That old 802.11b wireless router will probably find a home in the garage as a "just in case" backup should the high-speed 802.11n unit ever fail, but what about the busted hard drive and the near-doorstop circa-1995 Pentium I computer?

It's a question we all face at one time or another, and in some cases we can find friends or family interested in working relics. Yet for most of us who'd rather not hang onto 30lb piles of obsolete computer junk, or assorted parts like a busted hard drive, it's tempting to just chuck it to the curb-side trash. Bad call.

The Disconnect: A Problem of E-Waste

The components of a computer contain a long list of chemicals, metals, plastics and reclaimable materials in their make up. The hard drive for example contains all sorts of materials; some are mundane like aluminum and steel, and valuable like the trace amounts of gold on electrical connectors. Yet it's the other trace amounts of materials generally found in electronic components like lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury that are a real concern. So how does this apply to that obsolete computer sitting at the curb? Once you put this stuff out to the curb, it will get taken away and more than likely get smashed into tiny bits, then trucked off to a big hole in the ground where it will stay forever... hopefully without leaching any of these potentially toxic substances into the water table.

Ground water is the primary concern with all waste destined for landfills, and given the long list of metals and exotic chemicals used in electronic devices, this issue is becoming more timely. Right now a massive volume of yesterday's technology is making its way to the trash, and landfills.

Canadian professor and world-renowned environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki often refers to the lack of a "connect" when discussing the average person and our environment. The "connect" he refers to is the idea that we don't see our actions in the world and the result of those actions as related occurrences. More often than not, most of us are content to know that a problem has gone away, rather than know what happens after it's out of our sight. This is how phosphates and dichlorides can invariably end up in our rivers and lakes; we flush the stuff and forget about it. A parallel situation is brewing with e-waste, and in an effort to stem the future effects of these components, many governments are beginning to strongly regulate the materials that go into electronics, and how take the issue of how they are disposed of at the end of their useful life more seriously.

Product Sustainability

Lets be honest with ourselves for a moment. In the long run, most of us don't think about the environment outside of what directly affects us... hot days, smog, litter in front of our house - that sort thing. At the end of the day, the economic burden we face on a business or personal scale is the price tag that weighs heaviest, and this is a key facet of sustainability. If we take a moment to rethink the economics of something as trivial as tossing out an old junked computer, the idea of "garbage" can be viewed in a whole new light. Consider the amount of time, money and energy spent in acquiring and transporting the materials, not to mention actually making the thing in question.

When that old DVD player or Pentium II computer finally gets unplugged for the last time, the idea of simply sentencing everything it's composed of to an eternity as "just garbage" is rather odd. In the shadow of a looming demand for energy and raw materials, sustainability basically means that the products we produce should minimize their impact both at the beginning, and end of their life cycles. Economically speaking, if we knew the price of copper were to rise significantly, would it then make sense that we're tossing out tones of the stuff in old electronics while still going through the trouble of mining tones more from the ground?

Reclaiming materials from obsolete electronics can be tricky, and to be realistic the face value of a good majority of an old PCs bits and pieces is low... However, include the cost of energy to refine those raw materials, and the equation certainly changes. Include the costs associated with disposal, and the equation changes a little more.

This is where we "reconnect", and laws such as RoHS and WEEE affect change by preventing the first half of the equation from going down the environmentally hazardous path...

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  — Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go?
 Pg 2.  Reconnecting: Fewer Hazardous Electronics - RoHS and WEEE

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