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Computer Crash

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Computers are taking over the world-not at home or the office, but at landfill sites across North America

Computers are taking over the world-not at home or the office, but at landfill sites across North America.

The disposal of computer junk-obsolete processors and monitors full of toxic materials-has reached an alarming rate. It is estimated that home-users and companies in Canada and the United States will get rid of at least 315 million computers by next year.

That means the resulting hazardous waste-lead and heavy metals found in computer products-could wind up in our drinking water and pose environmental damage. A typical computer processor and monitor contain 2.3 to 3.6 kilograms (five to eight pounds) of lead and heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury and arsenic. An average computer monitor contains more than 1.5 pounds of lead. (Production wise, it takes 5.7 litres of crude oil to make the plastics in just one personal home or office computer system.)

Most computer equipment contains more than 1,000 materials, many of which are highly toxic such as chlorinated and brominated substances, harmful gases, metals, acids, plastics and plastic additives. For more information, visit npr.org/programs/watc/features/2002/apr/computers.

In the US, environmental groups have formed the Computer TakeBack Campaign (grrn.org/e-scrap), a national network of waste-reduction and toxics activists, recycling professionals, local officials, students and design professionals.

- Heather Conn

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