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Study of computer industry on the environment

UN report highlights the effect of the computer industry on the environment.

A report recently released by the UN highlights the effect of the computer industry on the environment. It shows that the manufacturing of an average computer consumes ten times the weight of the finished product in fuel and materials. The disposal of computers presents yet another problem. Computers, along with other electronics items contain a range of toxic materials. No data is available on the amount of computers and appliances discarded to landfill. The lack of an electronics recycling sector in New Zealand indicates that only a very small percentage of appliances sold in New Zealand are recycled. Retail sales figures show a 58% increase in the number of appliances sold over the last decade.

Alan Liefting, an electronics technician, has been investigating the recycling of computers and other discarded appliances (also know as e-waste).

"The New Zealand environment is suffering as a result of lax waste management legislation." says Mr Liefting. "There is no requirement for landfill operators to remove e-waste from the waste stream. This e-waste will leach a toxic cocktail of chemicals into landfills for years to come. Is it fair to lumber future generations with a problem which is not of their making?"

"New Zealand lags behind the EU and the US when it comes to e-waste recycling. Any legislation to make e-waste recycling economically viable is still some time off. The targets set by the Ministry for the Environment in its Waste Strategy for special wastes, which include e-waste, have not been met."

Mr Liefting has discovered that it not commercially viable to recycle discarded appliances. It has also been shown that appliances, especially computers, have a shorter useful lifetime due to rapid technological improvements, difficulty in carrying out repairs and low initial cost. Only a small amount of the material contained in these appliances can be economically recovered. Some of the scrapped appliances are sent overseas to markets with cheaper labour where further processing is carried out.

The best model for applicance recycling is a product take-back scheme such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) where the manufacturer or importer is responsible for the recycling of the product. Many European countries have operated EPR schemes for some time.

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