Archive for the ‘computer waste’ Category

computer waste books

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

For you computer/e-waste fans, here are some great books:

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers
(Heard her on the radio the other day–she’s fantastic)

High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health by Elizabeth Grossman

Challenging the Chip: Labor Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry edited by Ted Smith, David A. Sonnenfeld and David Naguib Pellow, foreword by Jim Hightower

One of my all-time favourite computer waste books because it’s the first attempt to quantify the environmental components and costs of computers:

Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing their Impacts, edited by Ruediger Kuehr and Eric Williams

catching hi-tech trash

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Canada is finally getting serious about all the high tech trash that is mysteriously finding its way from Canadian white collar offices and recycling firms:

A joint investigation by Environment Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency since last year seized 50 containers loaded with about 500,000 kilograms of “E-waste” — discarded parts valuable to foreign junk merchants who extract recyclable material from the goods.

Although, as the report mentioned, Canada has signed the Basel Convention, making it illegal to transport hazardous waste, it also neglects to mention that the federal government creates its own loopholes to the Convention. For example, computers are not considered hazardous waste unless they are disassembled. Moreover, the federal government has often been the worst offender when it comes to inadvertently shipping its own computers, monitors, and printers to China.

Still, it’s never too late to live up to our image of being an environmentally responsible country (especially now that the minority government has decided it’s expedient to act like one).

cell phones for food

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Finally, a way to recycle cell phones in Canada, either via a drop off location or mail. The money generated from recycling the cell phones goes to local food banks. Hopefully the recycling will save some gorillas too, if think-food is able to recycle the coltan in the phones.

environmental cost of Christmas

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Just a few thoughts on this festive day on sobering waste statistics from the UK:

* More than a billion Christmas cards – 17 for every man, woman and child – will be delivered this year. That’s enough to stretch around the world five times.

* 52 square miles of wrapping paper – enough to gift-wrap [the Isle of] Jersey – will be ripped off by Boxing Day.

* 125,000 tons of plastic packaging – equal to a million [UK Labour Minister] John Prescotts – will end up in the bin.

* Six million trees have been bought but only 1.2 million will be recycled. The rest will be left to rot or be thrown away.

* Shops sell 16 million turkeys and 830 million sprouts. Up to 40 per cent of festive food is wasted.

* Turkey foil wrap will create 3,000 tons of waste.

* Within three months, 41 per cent of the toys children receive will be broken. Most will go to the tip.

* Many will get the latest mobile phone but only 10 to 15 per cent are recycled.

What to do? Besides being judicious about the amount of food you cook and the sturdiness of the toys you purchase,

Take your tree to be ground down. Many local governments now accept trees for grinding into mulch. If your’s doesn’t then demand that it does.

Save and reuse your Christmas wrap or wrap your presents in cloth, an old Japanese tradition.

Other ideas?

regulation of waste materials from nanotechnology

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

It doesn’t take much silver to kill household germs. That is why microscopically tiny particles of silver are showing up in all manner of products, from sneakers to air freshnerers. But just because they’re small doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous to the environment. A growing number of scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the impacts those nanoparticles have on bacteria, aquatic habitats and humans once the particles are flushed down the drain or end up in landfills. So the US Environmental Protection Agency has decided to regulate nanosilver.

natural commons meets creative commons

Friday, October 27th, 2006

David Bollier asks: “can we have an environmentalism for the net without also pursuing an environmentalism for the environment?” Or more basically, is there a common usage of the term and assumptions around “the commons”? How transferrable is that concept?

Those of us who study the commons realize that there is a big distinction between information commons and natural resource commons. The former are generally non-depletable and increase in value as more people use them, while the latter can be “used up” and abused. And so we have settled into a discourse that regards these two classes of commons as entirely separate beasts. We cheer the rise of commons-based peer production in free software, Wikipedia and Flickr. But when it comes to the shared gifts of land, water, air and genes, many “online commoners” are more sanguine about letting the “free market” and corporate America manage things as they see fit.

He points out that we become so enthralled with the net, the “New Paradigm commons,” that we lose sight of the “depressingly familiar “Old Paradigm” corporate behavior.” Read the thought piece because it reminds us that in our search for the new online environmentalist tool, wiki or google bomb we can forget that our computers are creating mountains of toxic trash.

who’s worrying about the disposable cameras?

Sunday, June 11th, 2006

Just saw the announcement for the disposable digital video camera from pure digital technologies, Inc. (okay, the original was announced last year, but this is the new model.) There’s lots of buzz about them in the popular press. The video camera comes with USB connector, flash memory, and an LCD screen. Is anyone worrying about the computer hardware on these throw-away devices?

According to The Internet Consumer Recycling Guide,

Recent studies have show that, despite the recycling claims on the boxes, less than half of disposable cameras are ever actually recycled. Enough cameras have been tossed to circle the planet, stacked end-to-end. Local film developers often have little or no incentive to return the camera bodies to the manufacturers, and not all parts of the cameras are recyclable. Kodak has started to minimally reimburse developers for the costs of sorting, storing and shipping, but processors are still faced with a bewildering variety of types, brands, and procedures for dealing with them.

I’m going to contact pure digital to see what their policy is on managing disposal. I’ll let you know the results.

computers that aid recycling

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Not recycling computers but using computers to boost recycling. The idea is that you pay people to recycle. Computers are used to track that recycling and calculate the renumeration.

It’s called RecycleBank.

Households get credit for the weight of materials they recycle, which is scanned and recorded through a computer chip embedded in the garbage bins when they are picked up by the sanitation crew. They exchange that credit for coupons at various businesses. Municipal officials save disposal fees. Recycling companies make more money from processing. Retailers gain the feel-good association with a socially beneficial activity.

RecycleBank charges municipalities (or private haulers, depending on the arrangement) $24 a household, and guarantees clients that they will save at least that much in disposal fees as waste is diverted from landfills and incinerators. The company also receives revenue from recycling plants, depending on how much it increases the amount of materials that are processed.

The computer chip is a radio frequency ID, an RFID (apparently, the entrepreneurs found a company that already made bins with embedded RFIDs!).

The “smart waste” tag, a combination computer chip and bar code, enables the bins to be scanned and weighed and the amount linked to a household. The information is channeled from an on-board computer in the garbage trucks into a databank.

The Internet is used so that participating individuals can check their point balance online and obtain their coupons.

Now how about using computers to get people to recycle computers? Love that recursion.

Computers and toothbrushes

Monday, October 3rd, 2005

In the past I’ve talked about the ubiquity of computing. It’s come to this: the Oral B triumph toothbrush, an electric toothbrush with an onboard computer that tells you how long to brush or polish your teeth with its two circular brushheads.

The reviews are good, even if it’s tough to be nagged by a smart-alek toothbrush. And it is packed with computers.

the brush head has another microchip in it, which chatters with the handle’s on-board computer, providing feedback in 13 languages on the LCD. The on-board computer recognizes each user’s brush head by its unique chip, so it can track usage and prompt the user when it’s time to change brush heads.

When you’ve polished enough, an image of a tooth appears on the LCD screen, with an asterisk of light glinting off a corner. And when one has brushed enough with the cleaning head, the LCD screen displays (heaven help us) a smiley face. A little cloying for adults, perhaps, but it should get kids into gear to brush properly.

The brush head also notifies the user every 30 seconds to shift gears and brush another mouth quadrant. It also notifies you when the recommended two minutes lap time has elapsed — very sportsmanlike for the wired (as in orthodontia) prepubescent user.

Welcome to the age of smart devices, that tell you when you’ve run out of coffee, drunk too much, or didn’t gargle enough. Welcome also to the age of hazardous waste in small domestic packages. If you thought it would be difficult to dispose of toothbrushes before because they were composed of multiple plastics, now it’s doubly difficult because that tiny device is stuffed with microprocessors and batteries and all sorts of hazardous waste.

Greenpeace and e-waste

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005

I didn’t know that one of the main thrusts of Greenpeace is computer waste.

Particularly interesting is the ranking of companies on their global policies on toxic waste.

Strategies to Reduce Electronic Waste

Sunday, October 2nd, 2005

With 50 million computers being made obsolete every year, here’s one site that contains concrete strategies to reduce some of the waste.

Coltan, Gorillas and Cell Phones

Saturday, October 1st, 2005

Coltan, Gorillas and Cell Phones is the title of a report in Cellular News.

Coltan stands for columbite-tantalite, which is a metallic ore of niobium and tantalum. It resembles a crumbly white powder when the material is extracted. Eighty percent of the coltan in the world is found in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Refined coltan is important because it can store an electrical charge. The storage of minute quantities of electricity is essential to the operation of circuit boards, on which microchips sit. This includes the circuit boards in cell phones. As our thirst for cell phones grows, so does the need for coltan. According to a Uganda Gold Mining Ltd–a Canadian company, coltan is predicted to grow at a rate of 14 percent per year.

The tragedy in the Congo is that wars are fought and lives are lost in the struggle to control access to these minerals. Coltan sells at about $100US. A Congolese worker can earn 20 times as much mining coltan as doing other work. At one point the value of coltan peaked at $600US a kilogram. So it’s not surprising that wars might be fought and even spread to neighbouring countries such as Rwanda (which has no coltan of its own but, surprisingly, exports it).

But there’s an added environmental tragedy in the story of coltan.

The main area where Coltan is mined, also contains the [World Heritage Site] Kahuzi Biega National Park, home of the Mountain Gorilla. In Kahuzi Biega National Park the gorilla population has been cut nearly in half, from 258 to 130 as the ground is cleared to make mining easier. Not only has this reduced the available food for the Gorillas, the poverty caused by the displacement of the local populations by the miners has lead to Gorillas being killed and their meat being sold as “bush meat” to the miners and rebel armies that control the area. Within the Dem. Rep. of Congo as a whole, the U.N. Environment Program has reported that the number of eastern lowland gorillas in eight Dem. Rep. of Congo national parks has declined by 90% over the past 5 years, and only 3,000 now remain.

The gorillas are not inexorably doomed just because we must have cell phones.

Due to the damage caused to the Gorilla population and their natural habitat, companies that use Coltan are now starting to demand that their Coltan only comes from legitimately mined sources and is not a byproduct of the war. American-based Kemet, the world’s largest maker of tantalum capacitors, has asked its suppliers to certify that their coltan ore does not come from Dem. Rep. of Congo or from neighbouring countries. Such moves could lead to “Gorilla Safe” cellphones being marketed, much in the same way that Tuna meat is now sold as “Dolphin Safe”.

The question is, are we as consumers willing to demand “Gorilla Safe” certification for our cell phones? Are we willing to pay more for that product or eschew newer cooler models if those models fail to comply with the certification? We would have to be extremely vigilant because ensuring “Gorilla free” capacitors would demand that consumers take some role in monitoring each part of the manufacturing chain to prevent “bad” coltan from creeping in.

Other sources: BBC
United Nations
Born Free Foundation

MIT to develop $100 laptops

Saturday, October 1st, 2005

Members of MIT’s Media Lab have prototyped a $100 computer. The computer comes equipped with a color lcd screen, 500 MHz processor, and 1 gigabyte of memory (on flash memory, no less). It also has Wi-Fi capacity. To further reduce costs, the computer runs Linux. The goal in creating a $100 computer is to provide every single child in the world, especially in the poorest countries, a laptop computer.

To render the computer durable for poorer regions of the world, it will be enclosed in a tight rubber casing so it can be made water- and dust-resistant. One interesting feature is a hand crank that will allow children in areas lacking reliable energy to generate power.

The initial plans are to produce 150 million computers for poor children in the world. Negroponte, head of MIT’s Media Lab boasts that “these humble $100 notebooks would surpass the world’s existing annual production of laptops”. This is great news, providing laptops to children as a way to connect them to the advantages that we almost take for granted in the developed world. But before we uncritically salute this development, has anyone considered the environmental impacts of all of these new computers? At present, some 50 million computers are made obsolete every single year. That’s 50 million computers that need to be disposed of, which is millions of kilograms of cadmium, lead and mercury as well as flame retardants and other organics that are carcinogenic. Has anyone thought of that?

More information can be found at MIT’s Media Lab


Sunday, September 25th, 2005

The average man or woman in Britain uses over 3 tons of electrical and electronic waste in a lifetime. How do you convey that quantity in a dramatic way? WEEE man is an art installation in Britain that attempts to graphically demonstrate the average amount of electrical and electronic waste that a Briton uses in his or her lifetime. The sculpture stands 7 meters high and looks a lot like C3PO. It’s made from discarded equipment such as washing machines, televisions, microwaves, vacuum cleaners and cellphones.

WEEE comes from the European Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which is just now becoming law in the European Union. The law requires that all manufacturers who build and retailers who sell products in the EU assume responsibility for the products at the end of their usefulness. Technically, it’s called end-of-life management. The ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of WEEE going into landfills by reducing the number of goods used, finding other users for the goods, decreasing the amount of hazardous materials in those goods, or recycling the components where possible.

Here is the text of WEEE.

Update: calculate your WEEE footprint here.

My favourite recycling sites

Friday, September 23rd, 2005

Here are some of my favourite recycling strategies.

Recycling Snow (or grit)
Edmonton plows the snow from its streets and places it in into a landfill that’s fitted with a settling pond at the base. As the snow melts, the gravel and sand settle to the bottom. The grit is recovered by the city and then reused the next year.

Rain Trap System
The Rain Trap System uses over 1 million tires during the construction of a typical golf course. The tires are halved, placed edge to edge, and then buried. They act as a a subsurface irrigation system to hold and recycle water. According to the site, the soil is capable of holding “266 percent more water for turf grass roots than natural soil.”

The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary
The City of Arcata, California, US created a relatively low-tech alternative to traditional sewage treatment: an artificial wetlands waste treatment plant.

Alberta’s Green Tax
This year Alberta, Canada launched a program to impose a surcharge on the purchase of computers, computer peripherals, and televisions. The “advanced disposal surcharge”defrays the cost of disposal of electronic and electrical devices. The surcharge ranges from $5 for laptops to $45 for large-screen televisions.

Cash for Old Cell Phones
Several companies are offering cash for your old cell phones. Besides getting cash, or in some cases reward points, you also can save the environment.

What are your favourites recycling sites?

Toxic dust

Friday, September 9th, 2005

Is your computer emitting dust? According to a recent study by several environmental groups, “toxic dust” has been found on computer processors and monitors. The highest level of toxins found was a form of polybrominated diphenyl ethers called deca-BDE. deca-BDE is the most widely used fire retardant chemicals in computing manufacturing.

The study found that computers are likely to be a significant source of deca-BDE exposure in the dust of homes, offices, schools and universities. deca-BDE is linked to reproductive and neurological disorders. Worse yet, the substance is bioaccumulative so the multiple exposures add up over time.

This is not only significant for humans, particularly for nursing mothers, but also for animals:

Also of great concern is the alarming fact that the concentrations of deca-BDE found in peregrine falcons approach those concentrations reported to have caused neurological damage in mice. So, like penta- and octa-BDE before it, manufacturers’ claims that the biological uptake of deca-BDE would not occur, certainly not in high concentrations, have not only proven to be false, but deca-BDE itself has been documented as having caused harm in lab research.

The recent study, by Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, Computer TakeBack Campaign and Clean Production Action, is the first study to find brominated flame retardants on the surfaces of computing devices in homes and offices.

A soup bowl of toxics

Friday, September 9th, 2005

We’re beginning to hear about the enormous amount of toxic contamination in and around New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Most of the reports have focussed on contamination from sewage.

However, New Orleans and that area of the Gulf Coast have long been surrounded by a soup bowl of toxic materials of petroleum, heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides.

the Mississsippi was one of the world’s most polluted rivers, draining nearly 40% of America’s landmass. In 1990, Mississippi basin farmers applied 21bn pounds of fertilizer and 283m pounds of pesticides. The run-off of nutrients starves the water of oxygen and creates the world’s largest “dead zone” off the Louisiana coast. This year it expanded to an estimated 8,000 square miles.

Lake Ponchartrain, on the other side of NO is not much better. It’s been a historical dumping ground for sewer plants, dairy farmers, and recreational boaters, rendering the lake unavailable to swimmers until cleanup began at the late 1990s.

That’s just agricultural and human waste. The hardest hit area of Orleans and Plaquemines Parishes sits at the stretch of the polluted lower Mississippi where some 140 oil and petrochemical plants are clustered together. It’s called Cancer Alley, so called for the high incidence of varying types of cancers that afflict its primarily poor and black residents. A lot of that has washed into the floodwaters.

Locally, gasoline, diesel and oil leaking from underground storage tanks at gas stations also poses a problem. Add to that oil and gas bubbling up from the sunken fishing, pleasure and cargo ships. This fuel is creating a deadzone for fish and wildlife.

(Don’t forget the natural gas erupting from burst underground lines, which is causing fires all over the area.)

The biggest needs at the moment are clean drinking water and making the area minimally habitable. So incredible effort is being made to get rid of the water by pumping it into Lake Ponchartrain. However, we’re just removing one problem to create an environmental time bomb. According to geographer Chris Wells, who works for the US Geological Survey:

“The New Orleans area that was flooded was an industrial area where you have all the lubricants and batteries and heavy-metal plating — it’s just hideously dangerous,” … “We can’t wait around to test the floodwater before we pump it back into the lake — people are already dying of disease from it — but it’s a terrible thing to do. We’re going to avoid a great human disaster by doing this, but we could be creating a damn big environmental one.” Forget for a moment the scenario of a toxic lake in the middle of a major American city; should a future hurricane breach the levees again, New Orleans could literally be submerged in poison.

Just another example of our modern lifestyles comprising the ingredients of a toxic soup we then have to live in. Sorry, the poor among us have to live in.

Update: Apparently the US federal government may not be able to find out the ingredients of this soup as they’ve excluded the Environmental Protection Agency from cabinet level talks on the aftermath of Katrina.

recycle for pay

Thursday, July 7th, 2005

The NYTimes reports that numerous companies are offering cash for your old cell phones. Besides getting cash, or in some cases reward points, you also can save the environment.

Many of the sites take all phones – including clunky, brick-shaped dinosaurs – and simply recycle those that cannot be reused. Phones taken in that still have value are tested, outfitted with any needed accessories and then sold to dealers who resell them as refurbished phones in the United States or abroad. Some phones are donated to charities for use as emergency phones.

Even if cellphones sent in are not worth reselling, precious metals like gold from their circuit boards can be extracted and reused, said Rob Newton, president of OldCellPhone.

And by keeping used phones out of landfills, these potential money-making opportunities can also help the environment.

“It’s very important to remember that although each phone is small, they’re really a bundle of highly toxic materials,” because they include chemicals like arsenic, nickel, zinc and lead, said Joanna D. Underwood, president of Inform, a national environmental research organization.

The sites are:
Cell for Cash
Old Cellphone
Phone Fund

None of the sites are in Canada, I’m afraid.

Biodegradable material and computer chips

Friday, July 1st, 2005

Packaging is a significant contributor to overall computer waste. One such component is the packaging used to ship computer chips from place to place. To ship its chips, Fujitsu uses reels. These resemble the old 0.5 inch tape drive reels that you used to see in movies whenever a scene required a large computer.

Fujitsu to Use Biodegradable Plant-based Materials for All of Its Embossed Carrier Tape Used in Packing for Reel-based Shipment of LSIs

Fujitsu Limited … announced that it will shift completely to the use of biodegradable plant-based materials for the manufacture of embossed carrier tape, used for packing large-scale integrated circuit chips (LSIs) when shipping them on reels. Embossed carrier tape is a packing material that protects semiconductors from shock and static electricity. Fujitsu expects an 11% reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2 ) emissions by employing biodegradable plant-based materials to produce embossed carrier tape, in place of polystyrene, a material which was conventionally used in the industry.

Now if we could only introduce biodegradable materials into the chips themselves.

Japan is a large emitter of greenhouse gases and it is demanding reductions in GHGs in all sectors of the economy.

Wooden computers

Saturday, June 25th, 2005

Swedx has been building computer peripherals since 1995. Now it sells tvs, monitors, computer speakers, keyboards and mice encased in timber obtained from Chinese and other forests.

The company markets to people who wants something different from the normal plastic housings and are concerned about the environmental degradation caused by computer waste.

Swedx’s monitors range in size from 17 inches to 19 inches. Keyboards go for around $80CN. Optical, USB and wireless mice, made from a single block of wood, retail for about $50CN. A 17 inch monitor-TV with keyboard-mouse combo retails for about $1,500. A 26 inch LCD-TV is about $2,500CN. In North America, you can buy them from plasmaearth and webopolis.

While you’re at it, check out another type of wooden computer.

Also check out Sustainable Style magazine and website, whose motto is look fabulous, live well, do good.