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Greener computing

I recently came across the Greenpeace Apple mock site. Greenpeace claims that Apple is lagging behind the rest of the industry in terms of green policies – specifically, toxic elements in products and the lack of worldwide takeback programs for hardware. They have a series of requests for Apple and a set of actions that consumers can take to help. Definitely worth checking out.

The larger question that comes to mind, though, is this – do consumers know enough about this? Not just Apple consumers of course, but anyone who uses a computer, or indeed any electronic device. Computer parts aren’t really all that different, and I cannot imagine anything inside a computer (and I’ve looked inside one dozens of times) that is even remotely environmentally friendly. We’ve been given enough gyaan about vehicle emissions, plastic bags and the like, but what about the millions of computers, cellphones, and music players sold (and dumped) every year? Imagine a mountain of the things lying in a pile, and suddenly the once-beautiful gadgets don’t seem so pretty anymore. If you can’t imagine it, just go to the backlanes around Serangoon Road and you’ll see them in plenty.

So I read up a bit on electronic waste. It turns out most of the developed nations handle this in their usual way – by throwing money at it and sending off the garbage to far-off places like – you guessed it – India and China. Where, of course, the materials are usually either dumped into landfills or burned – both of which can have serious environmental consequences. Not that the majority of tech-savvy users care, judging by an article (and the comments on it) on arstechnica that reported on this.

I suddenly feel quite happy about the fact that I’ve never thrown away a computer, but always sold it off or given it to someone who’ll use it. Though, of course, my motive was far from saving the planet. On occasions, however, I have thrown away old computer parts – and suggested that others do so.

At the risk of sounding preachy, I’ll list a few things off the top of my head that a consumer could do. I guess the most important thing is to ensure long-term use of electronic equipment. If you buy new, buy good so that it lasts. Sell off your old but working electronics, or donate them to someone rather than dumping. You could also consider buying second-hand computers (I’ve bought three, and not regretted it!). If one takes the life of a standard PC as 4 years (and I know from experience it can be much more), and they’re dumped after an average of two years of life, thats twice the amount of e-waste generated than is necessary. I’m assuming the planet has some limited capacity of recycling or safely disposing off e-waste, and uselessly increasing the load on this won’t help. It’s also important to keep track of recycling initiatives by companies – until I read the Greenpeace Apple site, I had no idea that companies like Dell and HP actually have recycling programs.

Sadly, longer computer use is not in the interests of the corporate world who sell us our computers. Hopefully, this will be an incentive for them to use cleaner components and have beter recycling programs.

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