There is a warning out from the UN about the huge amounts of e-waste that is being generated and distributed overseas. Currently e-waste including old TVs, CPUs and phones are being shipped off to China, India and more recently, Africa. It’s estimated that up to 50 million tons of waste from discarded electronic goods is generated annually, and of that up to 75% of the shipments are defunct – in other words e-waste. The article states the amazing statistic that, “A recent study by the Basel Action Network concludes that a minimum of 100,000 computers a month are entering the Nigerian port of Lagos alone.” Some of the chemicals in computers called out in the article are lead, arsenic, antimony trioxide, polybrominated flame retardants, selenium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and mercury; all nasty stuff. If dumped the chemicals can leech into the earth, contaminating land and water, or if burnt, which is the more common disposal method, they release toxic fumes and leach chemicals such as barium and mercury into the soil.
This is completely on topic for me, right now I have 6 old computers in the trunk of my car, destined for EPC, a place in town that does proper disposal of e-waste at the cost of 5$ per computer. I’ve gathered these boxes from old jobs when they’d clear out outdated hardware, and I’d buy them to play with and learn from. Most are ~200Mhz systems, so these have gotten the cut while I still have 4 computers at home to play with, build servers from, geek out with, to keep me going. Still, think about what you’re doing when you’re done with a computer, most of the time you can pass it down to a relative or a child to use, since these users generally don’t need the latest and greatest, but if it’s too old, do some research and find out where you can properly dispose of your system. Greenpeace lists some overall solutions, while major computer manufactures like Apple, Dell and O2 have programs of their own to help deal with the issue, while the UK has some other suggestions, but it’s up to us as consumers to be educated about this, and to use this knowledge on future computer purchases.