Environmental Issues with Computers

The lifetime carbon footprint of computers and their related parts is significant. Billions of devices are in use each day from smartphones, to servers, embedded systems to personal computers. All of these devices need to be manufactured and ultimately disposed of when no longer needed. Use of these devices also causes a significant drain on natural resources.

Manufacture

Manufacturing computer parts can lead to environmental damage through:

  • sourcing raw materials and water needed for the production of parts
  • sourcing raw materials for the production of packaging
  • electricity and gas needed to power the factories
  • cooling systems used when testing a large amount of hardware
  • use of diesel and petrol for transportation of parts and the finished product

In different ways, each of these will lead to the emission of greenhouse gases.

Use

When devices are in use, they require power to run or to be charged. This naturally results in higher electricity use. PCs and monitors account for more energy consumption than servers and mobile communication technology.

Although many systems include power down or low energy options, many users neglect to activate these features and devices are left on unnecessarily. Recent estimates suggest that leaving devices on at work or home can cost around £120, 000, 000 per year in the UK.

Heat generation is also a bi-product of the use of technology. While a few computers on their own may not seem to generate a lot of heat, billions of devices together do. Use of computers and technology is responsible for more carbon dioxide emission than manufacturing or disposal.

Disposal

Recycling of components is always recommended as the disposal of ICT components can be problematic. Some parts are made of copper, zinc, gold and iron and if possible these should be extracted by specialists for future use, especially as they can also have a negative effect on the surrounding environment.

Many components are fairly hard-wearing and will not degrade into the environment naturally. This often means that landfill sites are filled with items such as monitors and chipsets. The alternative is to burn these components but this also leads to the emission of greenhouse gases. Some components also release hazardous chemicals that can be damaging to the local environment.

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