EcoMall

A GUIDE TO
ENVIRONMENTALLY PREFERABLE
COMPUTER PURCHASING

Computers are as common in our offices as telephones and the numbers are growing. Faster, more powerful machines quickly replace obsolete equipment and "upgrade" cycles span only two or three years. Most computer equipment is not designed to be easily recycled. The components are difficult to take apart and the materials, especially plastics, are often unlabeled making recycling difficult. The result is large amounts of electronic junk headed for disposal.

Besides wasting materials, the manufacturing process and disposal of electronic equipment may release pollutants into the air and water and may adversely affect human health and the environment. The costs to replace equipment every two or three years, plus the cost to dispose of these items properly can add up quickly. What looked like a good price for new equipment may carry significant hidden costs.

You can send a message to manufactures and suppliers. Your purchasing decisions can affect the market. Choose manufacturers who practice Product Stewardship by making it their business to produce products that are less toxic, conserve materials, and reduce waste.

This Guide can help you make environmentally friendly choices when you purchase computer equipment. In it you’ll find out:

Problems and Alternatives
From design to disposal, purchasing choices affect the environment. The lists below identify materials and processes to consider for their environmental impacts, and show how your purchasing specifications can reduce or eliminate those problems. Further on in this Guide, you’ll find web addresses and resources for contract language, standards, and product details.

What’s the most important part of "green purchasing"? It’s taking steps to avoid pollution and waste. Energy efficient equipment cuts polluting emissions from power plants. Providing for equipment at the end of its useful life also prevents pollution and save valuable resources. That’s good business, too: the most efficient system has the least waste. If you want to read only one part of this Guide, see "End-of-Life" Management.


Obsolescence vs. "Upgradability"; End-of-Life Management
What’s the problem?
"Planned obsolescence" and design-for-disposal uses up natural resources and causes waste. Operating systems and software that cannot be upgraded electronically affect both the environment and the user’s budget. Samsung announced "the ultimate throwaway computer", sealed so it cannot be upgraded.

What’s the alternative?


Packaging & Shipping
What’s the problem? Computer equipment comes packaged in materials that typically cannot be reused, separated, or recycled. Glued computer parts and multiple-material packaging impede recycling. Materials such as polystyrene are generally made without recycled content and may be non-recyclable. Excessive packaging is wasteful. Paper manuals and disks packaged with each computer often add to the waste.

What’s the alternative?


Toxic Materials
What’s the problem? Manufacturing of computers and component parts typically involves solvents and other substances that must be controlled to reduce pollution and health risks. Cadmium, mercury, lead, and brominated or halogenated compounds do not break down readily in nature, and require special management. (Refer to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s Clean Computer Campaign, www.svtc.org for more details about toxic substances related to computer equipment).

What’s the alternative?


Other Design and Manufacturing Factors
What’s the problem?
Product design and manufacturing should address air and water pollution and employee health concerns. Besides using toxic substances and "designing-for-disposal," manufacturers often use glues or fasteners that make repair or upgrade impractical. In addition, virgin and non-recyclable materials use up more water, energy, and minerals than recycled materials.

What’s the alternative?

Written by: The Northwest Product Stewardship Council


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