PC report card slams poor disposal standards

Tech buyers should buy the more environmentally-friendly products such as HP and Dell, ahead of less ecologically-aware computers, according to a PC report card released this week.

The inaugural report card, which is the first of its kind in Australia, ranked six of the country's largest computer brands on environmental standards such as use of toxic-free products and whether the company had a take-back scheme for obsolete products.

While no computer company had an excellent environmental performance, Dell, which takes back products, was ranked highest, while Toshiba was the lowest, failing on most scores, according to Environment Victoria's Zero Waste Campaigner Jenny Henty. She said the report card sends a clear message to consumers that when they're shopping around for a computer they can buy or lease an environmentally better product.

The report also examined the escalating problem that redundant computers pose.

Instead of being reused or recycled, staggering amounts of discarded computers are being stockpiled or dumped in landfill, which is leaving a toxic legacy for human and environmental health, the report says. It concludes that computer companies are taking advantage of lax Australian laws and failing to be responsible for old products.

The report found:

  • Charities have become the dumping grounds for dead computers;
  • Australia lags behind many nations in controlling computer stockpiles;
  • Computer components - such as flame retardants in plastics, lead, barium and cadmium - cause various cancers, birth defects and disabilities.

"Because of industry laziness and poor government initiatives, the vast majority of computers are gathering dust in cupboards or being dumped in landfill. This must stop," she said.

"Creating one computer uses the same amount of water, chemicals and fossil fuels as it takes to make one mid-sized car. So it is shameful that three in four computers are dumped or stockpiled.

"If we want to avoid leaving a legacy of cancer, birth defects and a range of illnesses, then there must be an industry-wide take-back scheme of obsolete computers. And if they can't voluntarily do that, government must force them to do so, as they do overseas."

Computer facts:

  • Each year three million computers are sold in Australia
  • 500,000 computers in Victoria are redundant each year. Three out of four discarded computers in Australia are dumped in landfill or stockpiled.
  • 731,500 computer are dumped in landfill each year in Australia
  • In 10 years 1.77 million computers will be redundant each year.
  • The ACT is the only place that bans computer waste to landfill.
  • In five years, 30 countries will have take-back laws for electronics (Australia has no law).
  • Making one desktop computer and monitor uses the same amount of chemicals (22kg), water (1500kg) and fossil fuels (240kg) as a mid-size car.
  • The biggest computer users are small and medium businesses (28 percent); followed by large corporates (23 percent); government (18 percent); households (17 percent) and education (14 percent).
  • In just over a decade, the number of personal computers worldwide increased fivefold-from 105 million in 1988 to more than half a billion in 2002.
  • A typical computer monitor contains lead, barium and hexavalent chromium. Other toxic ingredients include cadmium in chip resistors and semiconductors, beryllium on motherboards and connectors, and brominated flame retardants in plastic casings. Electronic waste contributes 70 percent of lead, cadmium and mercury in landfill.

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