The Environmental Case for Refurbished IT
Since the BBC’s landmark, Blue Planet TV series in 2001 revealed the staggering problem of plastic waste (1) in our oceans, we now think twice before buying bottled water or taking a handful of plastic straws. However, what you might not know is that the level of e-waste, (electronic waste from discarded mobile phones, laptops and computers) is rapidly coming in a close second.
Surely, we don’t throw away that much electronic waste?
It’s true, lots of us hang on to our old phones and laptops – in a shoebox shrine to simpler days. But, a United Nations University study found that 44.7 million tonnes of waste was generated in 2016. This is a rise of 8% from 2014 (41.4 million MT). This is even faster than the growth of plastic waste. With manufacturers continually making advances and bringing out newer, shinier, must have models, these levels of waste production are set to continue to rise as consumers buy new at an increasing rate.
However, we throw away 44.7 million tonnes, worth around £40 billion. The volume is about the equivalent of 4,300 Eiffel Towers. For those of us who have never held an Eiffel Tower and understand tonnes in terms of elephants, that’s about 6.1 million elephants worth of e-waste every year.
In the UK, that equates to around 55lbs of e-waste per person a year, the majority of which goes straight into a landfill as our recycling infrastructure doesn’t currently support a practical disposal system for e-waste.
Why is my old PC bad for the environment? It’s just some metal.
If you want to build a computer, you are going to need about half the periodic table of elements. To be accurate, 50 out of the 90 elements go into making up a PC. Let’s take a look at the ingredients:
- First, there’s some metal: steel, silica, iron, copper, and bauxite,
- Also, some precious conflict metals like gold and silver. Then cassiterite, wolframite, cobalt and coltran, which are all mined in the Congo.
- Then that key ingredient – silicon to make up the CPU, which has to be mined, causing massive amounts of waste products and contaminated water,
- You also have some really expensive ruthenium, cobalt, chromium, and platinum,
- A dash of some highly toxic elements that can lead to kidney and liver failure like, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and beryllium,
- A soupcon of some sci-fi materials like, hafnium, neodymium, ruthenium or gallium, and the heart of your motherboard, some 7,7,8,8-tetracyanoquinodimethane,
- And finally, wrap that all up in some plastic coating containing toxic phthalates (which makes that ‘new’ smell’) and you have a fully baked PC.
The majority of these ingredients have a huge environmental impact just to get them out of the ground, let alone the CO2 they generate, to process them into something useful. Then to top it off, they become highly toxic to both humans and the planet when destroyed.
All in all, one an average desktop PC weighing around 24kg and a 27-inch monitor would require 10 times its weight in chemicals and fossil fuels to manufacture. Researcher’s at the UN University broke this down into the following costs to the environment:
- 530 pounds (240kg) of fossil fuels (2)
- 50 pounds (22kg) of chemicals
- 3,330 pounds (1,500kg) of water to produce
- 400kg of CO2. A Dell Latitude E6400 will use around 350kg (3) CO2eq and a 13-inch MacBook Air, 339kg(4)). 400kg of fossil fuels is the equivalent of driving 15 hours in a car, non-stop.
Ok, so I’ll recycle and then buy a new computer?
You may think that you are off the hook if you plan to recycle your computer. Yet, recycling still requires massive amounts of energy and CO2 to transport it and process it. And, despite our government’s best efforts, 11,500 (5) shipping containers a year are illegally exported to third world countries for salvage or incineration, causing pollution and potential exploitation of children who are forced to scour toxic e-waste dumps for anything worth keeping.
Refurbished is environmentally better than new
Researchers (6) have also shown that extending the lifetime of an existing laptop/PC is much better for the environment than recycling it. By not buying new and buying refurbished we can:
- reduce pollution from mining,
- reduce pollution of toxic substances from decomposing e-waste,
- preserve the earth’s scarce raw materials.
While the environmental case for refurbished IT may not tug on the heartstrings like seeing a poor plastic filled sea-bird, computer waste is just as damaging to our planet’s health. We believe it is just as imperative to promote real solutions to a throwaway culture for electronics.
Convinced? Contact us today to access our very latest deals and offers and find out first-hand why refurbished IT is better both for you and for the planet.
You’ll also be able to find us on social media – follow us on Twitter at @secondlife-IT and over on Facebook and LinkedIn you can find us via our sister brand Pyramid.com which sells refurbished IT directly to the end users.
We’d love to hear what you think of the site – drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) 6.3 billion tonnes of plastic is now waste. 10th December 2017, BBC News.
(2) Ed. Kuehr, Ruediger and Williams, Eric (2003). Computers and the environment: understanding and managing their impacts. Springer Dordrecht, Heidelberg New York London: Kluwer/Springer.
(3) Stutz, Markus, (2010). Dell Carbon Footprint Whitepaper. Dell.
(4)13-inch MacBook Pro-Environmental Report – Apple.
(5) Environment Agency, February 2015. Regulating the waste industry.
(6) Prakash, S., Liu, R., Schischke, K., & Stobbe, L. (2012). Timely replacement of a notebook under consideration of environmental aspects. Federal Environment Agency. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0703993104. Bakker, C., Wang, F., Huisman, J., & Den Hollander, M. (2014). Products that go round: Exploring product life extension through design. Journal of Cleaner Production, 69, 10–16. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.01.028. Downes, J., Thomas, B., Dunkerley, C., & Bridge, H. W. (2011c). Longer Product Lifetimes: Chapter 2 – Life Cycle of Nine Products.
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