With over 2 million tons of “e-waste” per year in the USA alone, it is apparent that high technology has an environmental impact. It is enough to make almost any environmentalist cringe, but there is hope. I have recently observed and read about several different positive improvements to high tech environmental impacts. They boil down to materials and efficiencies.
In the realm of materials there have been massive quantities of difficult to recycle (but not impossible, see resources at the bottom of this article) such as packing “peanuts” and bits of foam including Styrofoam which many recycling programs prohibit. So where did these materials end up most of the time? You guessed it, in the landfills. Recently I have noticed a number of raw components are being packed in easily recyclable products usually cardboard or other paper products. Recently I’ve received firewalls and computer cases that used these materials in very innovative ways. In these cases the packaging has been completely recyclable for the first time ever. The plastic bags are clearly marked with the correct numbering. The paper products are a slam dunk for the paper bin. Actually it gets even better. The distributors themselves have switched completely away from “peanuts” and use paper and air filled bags for the most part now. Again this is 100% recyclable goods. This is proof that more sustainable solutions are possible for the packaging but what of the components themselves? This poses more of a challenge. Fortunately the European Union has recently done something that will change the way computer parts are made in a very positive way. Effective July 2006 any electronic electronics shipped to EU countries will have to be lead free. Lead has been an essential component in solder that is used in just about every electronic device. We’ve removed lead from paint and gasoline and now with some help from the EU will remove it from electronics. What if you live outside of the EU, will you still have lead in your electronics? It is possible but it is very likely that rather than making parts unique for EU distribution and non EU distribution it will probably be cheaper for manufacturers to just make everything to EU specifications. This should have a huge impact on the lead levels that future generations will be exposed to in the environment.
On the subject of efficiencies there has been less progress except for a few recent developments. In recent years most new processors packed more power into a smaller space but also used more energy and generated more heat doing so. Recently Intel® introduced a range of server, workstation and mobile chips that changed that. Intel® claims that some of their latest processors create 40% more power and more than 40% more energy efficiency. This means to us that we can expect quieter, faster, more efficient PC’s in the present.
On October 3, 2006 Diskeeper® Corporation announced that they would move towards environmentally friendly packaging. How do the numbers work out? By using environmentally friendly paper on an order of say 20,000 DVD case inserts and boxes, Diskeeper will save 9 fully grown trees, 4,857 gallons of water, 458 pounds of solid waste, 6 million BTUs of energy and 1,081 pounds of greenhouse gases otherwise harmful to the environment. The idea was the brainchild of Kareen Vilnai, Diskeeper’s Creative Director. She suggested to management that while it might actually cost more to use recycled paper products, the right thing to do was more important than the bottom line and would favorably impact the environment. Management agreed.
In an age where bigger, faster, stronger is often the norm, it’s pleasing to know that many people are much more practical and desire sustainable, efficient solutions. I would personally like to see much more of an emphasis on smaller, cooler, quieter and more efficient. If you’ve walked around a crowded office lately the buzz of the computers can be almost deafening. Not to mention the cost to keep the work areas at a comfortable temperature level thanks to the added BTU load of all those PC’s buzzing away.
Find Packing Peanut Recycling near you at www.loosefillpackaging.com
Diskeeper® Corporation www.diskeeper.com
Index of European Union Websites: www.eurunion.org
AMD® Sempron Mobile Processors Info: www.amd.com
Antec, Inc. (They now use paper packaging for their cases): www.antec.com
Zyxel, Inc. (Their UTM firewalls are packaged completely with paper): www.zyxel.com